One of the specific challenges for the NBA this year — which meant a significant task for Carelli and his crew — was to attack the decline in viewership from last season. Regular-season game telecasts across ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV in 2018-19 averaged 1.2 million viewers, down 5 percent from the previous season. (NBA games were still up 3 percent from two seasons ago.) Particularly problematic was the viewership of the early windows of NBA national TV doubleheaders. Last year, per Sports Business Daily, TNT saw a 23 percent drop in viewership for the early windows in a doubleheader. ESPN had an 11 percent drop in the early window for its doubleheader games.
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“Overall, it’s an acknowledgement by the NBA that their prime-time telecasts have to be seen where the viewers are to maximize ratings and media revenues — and that means viewers in the Central and Eastern time zones,” said longtime sports TV consultant Lee Berke, who has clients across NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA, NHL and NASCAR.
Over recent weekends, BIG3 games averaged a 0.5 rating on the CBS broadcast network. That’s not great. But close to the 0.7 rating and 1 million viewers it drew for its second championship game in 2018. The deal with CBS is only for the 2019 season. But Kwatinetz is thrilled to be in business with CBS, America’s most-watched TV network.
The good news for BIG3? A league consisting of grizzled 30 and 40-something players, some with greybeards, has become surprisingly popular with millennials and Generation Z, both on TV and social media. Now BIG3’s eyeing events in China and countries where basketball is growing. “It is amazing when you think about it. We have the oldest players — and the youngest audience,” Kwatinetz said.
The NBA’s television doldrums so far this season are happening at the local level, too, where regional sports network ratings from 28 U.S.-based teams had dropped 10 percent on average at the All-Star break compared to the same point last year. Overall, most of the country’s RSNs have posted ratings gains this season; 15 have seen TV ratings increases in the first part of the season, and 13 have seen TV ratings decreases. (Information for Memphis and Toronto was not available at press time.) But it was the size of the decreases — and the big markets where they occurred — that caused the overall RSN average to drop by double digits through Feb. 12.
According to Nielsen, the Mavericks enjoyed the highest regional TV ratings surge in the NBA this season. Dallas’ 86 percent increases in viewership and ratings from last season to this season on Fox Sports Southwest surpassed No. 2 Denver’s 77 percent increases. The average rating of Mavericks games on FSSW increased from 0.7 to 1.3. The numbers no doubt are a reflection of local excitement generated by the addition and play of rookie Luka Doncic, as well as late-season interest in the final games of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious 21-season career.
TV ratings for games are down this season. The All-Star Game ratings were down. Silver said the league is struggling to reach the millions of fans from the target age 18-34 demographic who don’t have cable or streaming packages. They care about the league but don’t build the habit of watching games on TV or in person, a core tenet of creating revenue. “You see a tweet saying, ‘Warriors-Rockets great matchup, Harden is going for 60.’ The fact [is] you can’t just [click] and get that game,” Silver said. “That transactional friction has to be eliminated. We’re being paid a lot of money to gate our content right now [by TV partners]. What’s happening is demand and supply aren’t meeting.”
he NBA’s television doldrums so far this season are happening at the local level, too, where regional sports network ratings from 28 U.S.-based teams had dropped 10 percent on average at the All-Star break compared to the same point last year. Overall, most of the country’s RSNs have posted ratings gains this season; 15 have seen TV ratings increases in the first part of the season, and 13 have seen TV ratings decreases. (Information for Memphis and Toronto was not available at press time.)
The drop-off is most pronounced in some of the league’s biggest markets, like New York (down 41 percent on MSG Network), Chicago (down 36 percent on NBC Sports Chicago) and Boston (down 27 percent on NBC Sports Boston). Ratings for Bulls games in Chicago are at their lowest point in at least 13 years as the team has struggled on the court with one of the NBA’s worst records.
More than halfway through the regular season, NBA ratings have fallen. The real plummet has been on Turner, which started with a LeBron-less opening night and has been playing from behind ever since. The network is down 22 percent compared to this point last year.
ESPN is also off, but just 5 percent. ABC was up 5 percent on Christmas Day in a slate that was headlined in prime time by James’ Lakers against the Warriors. ABC tips off its weekly Saturday night coverage this weekend, which will offer a truer gauge.
The NBA feels it is on the upswing as Turner/ESPN/ABC were up 3 percent in December compared to November. Maybe this will be a trend, but so far — like the teams he plays on — the viewing might be a little too overdependent on James.
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September 19, 2019 | 7:44 pm EDT Update
The Heat, with one training camp roster spot to fill, recently summoned a familiar face to team headquarters: former Arkansas point guard Daryl Macon. Macon, undrafted after being second-team All-SEC in 2018, spent summer league with the Heat in 2018 but afterward opted to sign a two-way deal with Dallas that summer instead of an Exhibit 10 contract with Miami. … He has emerged as a strong possibility for the 20th and final roster spot, though others haven’t completely been ruled out.
September 19, 2019 | 6:07 pm EDT Update
The NBA power brokers descending on New York this week for the league’s Board of Governors meeting have reacted to the league’s beefed-up anti-tampering proposal with a mix of skepticism about its potential deterrent effect and concerns of privacy. In conversations with numerous league officials, team owners, general managers and agents, there’s some uncertainty about the means the NBA might use to investigate alleged rules violations. Atop those concerns for team officials are what league sources insist was Commissioner Adam Silver toughest decision in bringing new rules to a vote: An annual, random auditing of five teams’ communications with rival front offices and player agents.
Some teams believe that the league is rushing the process of changing the rules. In reaction to the blatant disregard of free agent tampering rules and an angry owner’s meeting in July, NBA owners are faced with a vote on Friday that could reshape — even if only in mechanics — how the business of player procurement is done.
The push to strengthen tampering rules — including a huge increase in the amounts of potential fines — was born out of a historic free agent period that witnessed several stars change teams in an acrimonious climate. The recruitment of Kawhi Leonard became fraught with charges that his uncle and advisor, Dennis Robertson, requested benefits outside the boundaries of the salary cap, league sources said.
Small-market teams, fearing the free agency allure of big-city rivals, may line up to support the league’s proposal on Friday – as well as teams embittered by recent free agency defections. Those who vote against the new measures risk the perception that they condone cheating, even if other reasons colored their decision. Even so, teams and league officials will address questions about privacy and the specifics of enforcement.