NBA Rumor: TV Ratings

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Eight of the first ten NBA games on ESPN and TNT in 2022 have increased from last year, including seven by double-digits — Warriors-Mavericks on ESPN January 5 (1.69M, +78%), Nets-Bulls on ESPN Wednesday (1.56M, +58%), the Bucks’ rout of the Warriors on TNT Thursday (1.41M, +34%), the Bucks’ rout of the Nets on ESPN January 7 (1.50M, +28%), Clippers-Suns on TNT January 6 (1.16M, +17%), the Knicks’ buzzer-beating win over the Celtics earlier that night (1.28M, +13%) and Hawks-Lakers on ESPN January 7 — the most-watched game of the calendar year so far (1.77M, +11%).

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Put another way, the NBA made the top 25 in 2017 and four years later, is totally out of the top 100. It gets even worse when we rewind back another year. In 2016, the NBA had eight games in the top 25. So, within five years, the NBA went from eight games in the top 25 most viewed to ZERO in the top 100. Additionally, in 2016, the NBA claimed 12 of the top 50 spots. So, you’re going from over one-fifth of the top 50 to zip, zero, nada of the top 100. That’s a huge drop, and it defies any, “all sports have suffered of late,” hand waving. Yet, nobody associated with the NBA seems all that concerned about the sport’s financial state, at least publicly. That’s why a story like this causes hardly a ripple:

The Nets, without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or Joe Harris, played on national television Christmas Day and came away with a big win over the Lakers at the newly minted Crypto.com Center … and a big audience nationally. A total of 5.75 million basketball fans watched on ABC, the most of any of the five holiday games Saturday, per Nielsen, the ratings service. The numbers were down from the last two years of Christmas viewing, what with COVID ravaging NBA rosters and the cross-scheduling of games vs. the NFL.

NBA regular season games were averaging 1.59 million viewers across ESPN, ABC and TNT through last Wednesday, up 11% from the comparable period in 2019 (1.44M*). Last Tuesday’s Warriors-Knicks game, in which Golden State G Stephen Curry set the all-time three-point shooting record, averaged a 1.4 rating and 2.35 million viewers on TNT — the fourth-largest audience of the season. Golden State has now played in each of the five most-watched games, six of the top seven and eight of the top ten.

In the NBA’s earliest game on broadcast television in 20 years, Stephen Curry and the Warriors helped ABC’s NBA Saturday Primetime to a multiyear high. Warriors-Sixers averaged a 1.7 rating and 3.07 million viewers in the season premiere of ABC’s NBA Saturday Primetime, marking the largest audience for the network’s Saturday night series since the same matchup in March 2019 (3.63M). Philadelphia’s win, which peaked with 3.55 million from 10:45-11 PM ET, ranks as ABC’s most-watched regular season game outside of Christmas since Lakers-Clippers on March 8, 2020 — three days before the NBA postponed its season (3.62M).

NBA viewership is trending above two years ago thanks in large part to the resurgent Golden State Warriors. NBA regular season games are averaging 1.55 million viewers so far this season, up 8% from the comparable point two years ago. At the same point last year, the season had not yet begun. Tuesday’s Warriors-Suns game, a matchup of the league’s two best records, averaged 2.38 million viewers on TNT — the second-largest audience of the season behind Warriors-Lakers on Opening Night (3.39M). Golden State has now played in the top three, four of the top five, five of the top seven and six of the top nine games this season.

Wednesday’s Hornets-Warriors NBA regular season game averaged 1.76 million viewers on ESPN, up 37% from Bucks-Clippers in 2019 (1.29M) and the fifth-largest audience of the young season. Golden State has played in three of the top six games thus far, more than any other team. Ratings were not immediately available. Earlier in the night, Hawks-Nets drew a 0.8 rating and 1.3 million — down 20% and 13% respectively from Warriors-Rockets in ’19 (1.0, 1.49M).

ESPN aired its most-watched season-opening NBA doubleheader in four years Wednesday, averaging 1.74 million viewers for Celtics-Knicks and Nuggets-Suns. In particular, Celtics-Knicks averaged 1.96 million — the network’s top opening game since 2013 (Heat-Nets: 2.45M). The double-overtime thriller, which peaked with 2.87 million from 10:30-10:45 PM ET, actually declined 2% from the comparable window last season, Bucks-Celtics on TNT in late December (2.00M). Compared to the last traditional season two years ago, viewership increased 15% from Celtics-Sixers on ESPN opposite the World Series (1.70M).

On paper, ABC’s 5 p.m. ET Warriors-Suns showcase looks awfully sweet, as it features a meeting between point guards extraordinaire Steph Curry and Chris Paul. Golden State will be in the midst of a bid to return to the postseason after a two-year layoff, during which Klay Thompson was benched with various leg ailments. The Suns, meanwhile, are still smarting from their 4-2 loss to the Bucks in the NBA Finals; all things being equal, this is the sort of pairing that should draw as many as 9 million viewers. Unfortunately for ABC, the Golden State-Phoenix broadcast airs directly opposite Fox’s coverage of a Packers-Browns game in which Aaron Rodgers will suit up against Baker Mayfield. The grizzled-vet-versus-cocky-upstart trope generally makes for good TV, and seeing as how Green Bay has long been one of the NFL’s top draws, Fox is likely to pull a Grinch on ABC.
5 months ago via ESPN

Nets vs. Lakers to highlight Christmas Day schedule

A showdown between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers will highlight the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. In addition to the star-studded, cross-coast clash, the Atlanta Hawks will travel to take on the New York Knicks. That game will be a rematch of a first-round playoff series that saw Trae Young become a Madison Square Garden villain while the Hawks eliminated the Knicks in five games.

Gaining broadcast network exposure for the first time, the NBA Draft managed a modest bump over last year’s low despite competition from the Summer Olympics. Airing opposite the Summer Olympics, Thursday’s NBA Draft averaged 2.26 million viewers across ESPN and ABC — up 6% from last year, when the event took place in November (2.13M), but down 27% from 2019, when Zion Williamson went #1 overall and the event took place in June (3.09M). Coverage aired on ESPN and ESPNU in those years.

While the average number of comments made per day in 2021 was the highest on record, the peaks (which almost always occur during the postseason) were actually the lowest since 2016. That’s surprising because r/nba has more than quadrupled its subscriber base since then. What I like about this approach is that it’s capturing NBA interest (or lack thereof) from a younger, more technologically-savvy fanbase. I think the criticism most people have with using television ratings to measure fan interest is that younger fans aren’t watching games on TV — they’re streaming it or just following it closely on social media. This analysis shows that even among the fans least likely to be captured by traditional television ratings, interest in the biggest NBA games appears to be down.

The NBA Finals, taking place in July for the first time, averaged 9.9 million viewers, representing the fourth-lowest figure this century, as noted Monday by my Axios counterpart Kendall Baker. The only three Finals to pull in smaller audiences were last season’s Finals from the Walt Disney World bubble (Lakers vs. Heat) that were staged much later than usual in October, 2007 (Spurs vs. Cavaliers) and 2003 (Spurs vs. Nets). The league has long maintained that such audience measures are incomplete, since they roughly account for only 10% of international markets and do not include figures from social media platforms or its League Pass streaming service.

Giannis Antetekounmpo’s 50-point effort, which snapped the Milwaukee Bucks’ 50-year drought, posted a 50 percent increase in viewership over last year. Tuesday’s Suns-Bucks NBA Finals Game 6 averaged a 6.6 rating and 12.52 million viewers on ABC, up 57% in ratings and 50% in viewership from Lakers-Heat in the “bubble” last October, which aired opposite Sunday Night Football (4.2, 8.37M), but down 38% and 33% respectively from Raptors-Warriors in June 2019 (10.7, 18.76M).

According to Nielsen, the NBA and ABC on Wednesday, the six-game series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns averaged 9.91 million viewers, a 32% increase over last year’s series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, which also went six games. However, the average makes it the fourth-lowest since 1997. The Lakers-Heat series — which was played in October in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, after the coronavirus pandemic pushed the season back five months — averaged only 7.45 million.

After a series (and post-hiatus) high in Game 4, a Saturday night Game 5 of the NBA Finals slipped back under the ten million mark. Saturday’s Bucks-Suns NBA Finals Game 5 averaged a 4.8 rating and 9.62 million viewers on ABC, flat in ratings and up a modest 7% viewership from Heat-Lakers last October, a potential title-clincher and the most-watched game in the “bubble” (4.8, 8.96M), and down a sharp 55% and 48% respectively from Warriors-Raptors in June 2019, another potential clincher in which Kevin Durant returned from injury only to tear his Achilles (10.6, 18.60M).

If 20 million viewers for the sixth broadcast of Bucks-Suns is likely out of reach—the audience would have to more than double (+122%) in size between Game 3 and Game 6, which is something that has happened exactly never—that figure is well within reach if a seventh game is required. That sort of turnout will not only keep ABC from being buried under a pile of make-goods, but it would also go a long way toward drowning out a lot of the chatter about the NBA’s waning popularity.

Back in the States, where soccer is still not exactly what anyone would call a matter of life and death, the TV audience was anything but insignificant. Not only did the Italy-England match deliver more viewers than each game of NBC Sports’ coverage of the Stanley Cup Final, but it also handily out-delivered nearly every game of the 2020-21 NBA season. Per Nielsen, only the Christmas Day Mavs-Lakers broadcast, two playoff outings and the three NBA Finals games have put up bigger numbers than Sunday’s overseas soccer showdown. For the sake of context, the two conference semifinals telecasts (Bucks-Nets, Hawks-Sixers) were both Game 7s.

A Western Conference Finals few would have expected at the start of the season posted a solid rebound over last year’s “bubble.” The six-game Suns-Clippers NBA Western Conference Finals averaged 5.38 million viewers across ESPN and ABC, up 19% from last fall’s Lakers-Nuggets series in the “bubble” on TNT, but down 29% from Warriors-Blazers on ESPN in 2019. Viewership increased a third from ESPN’s conference final in the “bubble,” Heat-Celtics.

Neither the ratings disaster of the “bubble” nor a return to normal, a pair of unexpected, non-traditional NBA conference finals continues to put up respectable numbers. Monday’s Clippers-Suns NBA Western Conference Finals Game 5 averaged 5.74 million viewers on ESPN, up 20% from last year’s clinching Nuggets-Lakers Game 5 in the “bubble” on TNT, which aired on a college football Saturday (4.79M) and the most-watched game of the conference finals thus far. For the postseason, the Clippers’ win ranks third behind a pair of semifinal Game 7s (Bucks-Nets: 6.91M; Hawks-Sixers: 6.16M) and ahead Warriors-Lakers in the Play-in Tournament (5.62M).

“If there was any question whether last year’s decline was primarily due to the bubble, the fan-less environment, the months-long delay, if there was any question as to whether or not that was true, it’s been answered by the fact that the ratings for a postseason where Steph Curry didn’t make it to the playoffs and LeBron didn’t make it out of the first round are up dramatically from last year, just by default,” Sports Media Watch’s Jon Lewis, an expert on the subject, told Yahoo Sports. “It’s obvious that 99% of why the ratings were so bad was because of the circumstances. Now, were there also people who tuned out because of seeing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the court? Maybe, but I can tell you it’s painfully obvious that last year’s results were primarily because of being in the circumstances that the league found itself late last summer.”

That is why you have seen sourced reporting that anticipates a massive increase when the NBA’s current media rights deal expires in 2025, like the one from CNBC’s Jabari Young in March that set expectations at $75 billion — more than triple the existing package — even amid another regular-season ratings decline. “The value is always rising. You have to think about what that means. What the ratings decline means isn’t, ‘Oh, my goodness, they’re all going to go broke.’ That’s absurd,” added Lewis. “What the ratings decline means is you’re going to have to make some sacrifices to get as much money as you want to get. Those sacrifices aren’t going to be paying players less. They’re probably going to have to put some games on Peacock or ESPN+ or one of these platforms that networks are willing to overpay to get programming for.”

Crupi discusses the first round of the NBA playoffs averaging 3.06 million viewers, up 46 percent over 2020 and up 3 percent versus 2019; what the viewership numbers mean; why the second round of the NBA playoffs will be a significant viewership challenge for the NBA; the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs averaging a total audience of 642,000 viewers across NBC, NBCSN, USA, CNBC and digital outlets; what those numbers mean; what the best viewership possibilities for the NHL, and more.

In the NBA’s first second round since 1994 sans LeBron James, Stephen Curry or Shaquille O’Neal, the streaking Suns may have an argument as the league’s best draw left. Sunday’s Suns-Nuggets NBA second round Game 4 averaged a 2.25 rating and 4.22 million viewers on TNT, marking the largest audience of the second round thus far (through Monday). Ratings and viewership fell 22% from the comparable window in the “bubble” last year, but that was a Laker game on ABC (2.9, 5.43M). Compared to 2019 (Nuggets-Blazers), ratings fell 9% (from 2.5) but viewership increased 4% (from 4.06M).

Shifting to the highest-profile series of the first round, last Thursday’s Suns-Lakers Game 6 averaged 4.5 million viewers on TNT — the network’s largest opening round audience since 2018 (Cavaliers-Pacers Game 4: 6.07M). The Suns’ Game 5 rout last Tuesday averaged 3.5 million, up 44% from last year in the “bubble” (Mavericks-Clippers: 2.43M) and up 12% from Thunder-Blazers in 2019, a game that ended on a series-clinching three-pointer by Damian Lillard (3.11M).

NBA playoff viewership continues to surge over last year’s ratings disaster in the “bubble.” Last Sunday’s Suns-Lakers Game 4 averaged 5.38 million viewers on ABC, up 63% from last year’s comparable game in the “bubble” (Clippers-Mavericks: 3.31M) but down 15% from 2019 (Warriors-Clippers: 6.29M). The Suns’ win delivered the fourth-largest NBA audience of the current season, behind Mavericks-Lakers on Christmas (7.01M), the All-Star Game (5.94M) and Warriors-Lakers in the Play-in Tournament (5.62M).

Later Sunday, Nets-Celtics Game 4 averaged 3.47 million on TNT — up 139% from Raptors-Nets in the “bubble” (1.45M) and up 29% from Raptors-Magic in 2019 (2.69M). The Clippers-Mavericks nightcap drew 3.13 million, up 67% from the “bubble” (Nuggets-Jazz: 1.87M) and down 16% from 2019 (Blazers-Thunder: 3.74M). On Saturday, Jazz-Grizzlies Game 3 drew 2.89 million on ESPN — down 10% from 2019 (Rockets-Jazz: 3.19M). Sixers-Wizards led in with 2.24 million, down 42% from Lakers-Blazers in the “bubble,” which aired on ABC (3.86M), and down 10% from 2019 (Bucks-Pistons: 2.48M).

Figures for Thursday’s Game 3 telecasts were not immediately available. Lakers-Suns was the most-watched Game 2 with 4.02 million on TNT Tuesday night, up 17% from the comparable night in the “bubble” (Blazers-Lakers Game 1: 3.45M) and up 55% from 2019 (Thunder-Blazers Game 2: 2.59M). Grizzlies-Jazz ranked second among Game 2s with 2.76 million on TNT Wednesday, up 21% from the “bubble” (Mavericks-Clippers: 2.28M) and up 7% from 2019 (Jazz-Rockets: 2.58M).

You might ask, “What about LeBron?” Yes, he’s the NBA’s biggest remaining draw in this postseason, and when he goes against Steph, it’s a box-office bounty. You could even argue that he’s tied with Curry on a national level. I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s close enough that the argument can be made. On the local level, though? LeBron’s Lakers are nowhere near as watched in the Los Angeles market as the Warriors are in the Bay Area. The SBJ article shows us that the Warriors led all teams in local TV ratings in 2020-2021. Specifically, the Dubs’ 5.96 rating is way ahead of all others — save for the Jazz (5.90), a traditionally rabid one-team market.

The Lakers, who once ran Los Angeles before the Dodgers became one of baseball’s most locally popular teams, claimed only a 1.94 rating on their regional sports network (RSN). The Lakers averaged 96,350 households in the market in 2020-2021, while the Dodgers averaged 233,939 households last season. While you might chalk up that significantly lesser number to James missing 27 games, last season’s Lakers rating of 3.14 is still significantly lower than the recent Warriors mark. That aforementioned 2019-20 season, which was far more watched overall than the pandemic 2020-2021 season, featured a dominant Lakers squad that was charging towards contention for the first time in a decade. Still, its local rating was 89.9 percent lower than what the Warriors garnered this season.

Two big pieces of NBA viewership news happened over the last week, one more positive for the NBA than the other. We’ll start with the bad, in reference to the SBJ findings, and end on the good. This SBJ paragraph offers a good summation of the 2020-2021 RSN ratings picture overall: “The local numbers show some signs of concern, as they have posted decreases for four of the past five seasons, according to Broughton’s research. Numbers are also down three straight seasons and down 30 percent since the 2015-16 season.” Of the 28 NBA teams tracked in 2020-21, 15 declined by double digits. That’s not a majority of teams declining. That’s a majority declining by 10 percent or more. Caveats abound when we discuss the pandemic season, but the issue, as researcher Broughton puts it, is the trend that predates it. As he told me over the phone, “When you see that almost a third of the league see two straight years of significant declines, something’s up.”

The better news for the NBA is that the 2021 opening week is comparable with opening weekend of 2019, edging its average by 5,000 viewers, according to Sports Media Watch. Now, I could get into an arcane explanation of out-of-home counting and why that actually means fewer people watched in 2021 than in 2019. I could also point out that the 2019 opening weekend was totally sideswiped by Tiger Woods winning the Masters, a far bigger national happening than Phil Mickelson winning the PGA last weekend. I could add this context, but it’s sort of besides the point. The NBA’s first order of business was to stop the uncontrolled dive — and on this front, they did it.

Playoff TV ratings get better

The opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs averaged 2.89 million viewers across ESPN, ABC and TNT, up 49% from the first eight games of last year’s postseason, which aired on a Monday and Tuesday in August, and up slightly from the last traditional postseason in 2019 (2.84M). The average is identical to the six Play-in Tournament games that preceded the playoffs. Sunday’s Lakers-Suns Game 1 was the top draw of the weekend, averaging a 2.4 rating and 4.43 million viewers on ABC — topping every first round game in the “bubble” last August. Compared to the last traditional postseason in 2019, ratings slipped 2% but viewership increased 14% from Thunder-Blazers in the same Sunday afternoon window (2.6, 3.90M).
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January 22, 2022 | 6:45 am EST Update

Myles Turner addresses trade rumors

In an exclusive interview with ClutchPoints, Turner talked about being involved in trade rumors and people trying to recruit him. “I haven’t been contacted by any players directly,” Turner told ClutchPoints. “It’s more so reps of players or managers and stuff like that. Small talk here and there, but I really don’t entertain most of that stuff. That’s what I got my people for.”
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Trade season in the NBA can be a very stressful time. It’s not a video game or a fantasy league. You can’t trade someone and they’re available to play tomorrow. Professional athletes aren’t avatars, even though their size and abilities make them seem unreal. “I would say the first time I’ve dealt with trade rumors was probably like four years ago,” Turner continued. “I didn’t know what to think of it. As the summers progressed, I kept hearing more things, and that stuff was almost getting done. I kind of got used to hearing it all the time. I just took it as part of the business.”

Billy Donovan: ‘Grayson Allen could’ve ended Alex Caruso’s career’

Chicago head coach Billy Donovan had strong words about the play, and about Allen, after the game. “It was really bad,” he began. “It was really, really bad. We lost Patrick (Williams) on a flagrant foul, a pretty significant injury. I said this after the game, (New York’s) Mitchell Robinson was trying to make a legitimate play on the basketball. For Alex to be in the air and for him to take him down like that, he could’ve ended his career.
“He has a history of this. That to me was really, it was really dangerous. I hope the league takes a hard look at something like that because they could have really, really seriously hurt him. He’s dealing with his wrist right now. I don’t know to what extent his wrist is, but just being there, it was really, really dangerous to go after somebody like that. “I personally thought it was – it wasn’t good. It was not good. For it to be even be extended to a Flagrant 2 and be thrown out of the game, clearly the officials must have felt there was some intent there, the way he yanked him and snapped him to the floor, his head bounced off the floor. Really, really, really dangerous play.”
Storyline: Officiating Complaints