Storyline: TV Ratings

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“The world will be watching,” President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said Tuesday in a 40-minute Zoom conference with media members. “We’re probably going to have some of the highest TV ratings we’ve ever had. I can feel in the air there’s a pent-up demand for our sport, and sports in general. “You go from apprehension on one end of the pendulum to excitement at the other end,” Pritchard added. “(We’re) getting excited to go play basketball and we look at this as a unique experience. I’m hopeful this is the only one we ever have to do.”

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Which NBA local broadcast do you watch most often? Of the 840 responses we received from the survey of our subscribers, the broadcasts that were represented the most when it comes to viewing were the Minnesota Timberwolves (9.3 percent) and Toronto Raptors (9.0 percent). The New York Knicks (7.3 percent) and Golden State Warriors (also 7.3 percent) were the next highest volume on this survey. The Philadelphia 76ers (5.7 percent), Brooklyn Nets (4.9 percent), Boston Celtics (4.9 percent), Chicago Bulls (3.8 percent), Los Angeles Lakers (3.6 percent), and Milwaukee Bucks (3.6 percent) all rounded out the top 5 for local broadcasts our subscribers watch the most.

As most League Pass obsessives would guess, the Brooklyn Nets (+147) and New York Knicks (106) had the two most loved broadcasts. These are a little bit of a cheat code for MSG (Knicks) and YES (Nets) because they attract arguably the two best play-by-play announcers in the NBA. The Nets have Ian Eagle doing the majority of the broadcasts for their local viewings, when he isn’t off filling in NBA games on TNT, college basketball and NFL on CBS, or The French Open for the Tennis Channel. The Knicks have Mike Breen doing the majority of their local broadcasts when ABC and ESPN don’t tear him away for nationally televised games.

The Portland Trail Blazers (+56) crew of Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd came in third among all broadcast teams. Back in 2016, the Blazers had some controversy firing the locally beloved crew of Mike Barrett and Mike Rice. They were homers and their broadcasts were a bit zanier than you might hope for if you were an outsider looking in. But the Blazers fans seemed to love them. That made the entrance of Calabro and Hurd pretty rocky and not totally welcome. But Calabro has been one of the best in the business for a long time, going from Seattle SuperSonics broadcasts with Steve “Snapper” Jones to national games with ESPN. Hurd joined the team after years of PAC-12 broadcasts. You also can’t forget sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam, who brings a lot of information, energy, and fun into the mix.

Netflix says overseas hoops fans flocked in huge numbers to “The Last Dance,” the documentary series about Michael Jordan and the ’90s Chicago Bulls team, which has been a ratings smash in the U.S. for ESPN. Netflix tweeted the numbers Wednesday, claiming that 23.8 million households outside the U.S. checked out “The Last Dance” in its first four weeks on the service. “23 was always his lucky number!” the streamer said, referencing Jordan’s jersey number. But some big caveats are in order — Netflix’s selectively reported viewing figures aren’t comparable to TV ratings. The streamer bases its publicly reported audience metrics based on how many member accounts watched a given show or movie for a minimum of just 2 minutes — an in-house calculation the company claims is a better reflection of popularity than average time spent viewing, which is how the television world measures viewership.

ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance,” has overtaken Netflix Inc.’s “Tiger King” as the most in-demand documentary in the world, a boost for the cable giant at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has shut down live sports and slashed its audience ratings. “The Last Dance” was one of the 20 most in-demand shows in the world this week, according to Parrot Analytics, a research firm that tracks audience interest using data that includes social-media conversations and piracy. The show is even more popular in the U.S., where it ranked as 11th this week.

MJ documentary a ratings hit

The first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series about legendary guard Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, attracted the most viewers for a documentary in ESPN history, the network announced Monday. The two 60-minute episodes that aired Sunday night averaged 6.1 million viewers, according to ESPN. The first episode averaged 6.3 million between 9-10 p.m. ET, and the second averaged 5.8 million between 10-11 p.m. ET. According to ESPN, its “You Don’t Know Bo” on former two-sport star Bo Jackson was the previous most-watched documentary on its airwaves. That film averaged 3.6 million viewers in 2012.

MJ documentary a ratings hit

The first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series about legendary guard Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, attracted the most viewers for a documentary in ESPN history, the network announced Monday. The two 60-minute episodes that aired Sunday night averaged 6.1 million viewers, according to ESPN. The first episode averaged 6.3 million between 9-10 p.m. ET, and the second averaged 5.8 million between 10-11 p.m. ET. According to ESPN, its “You Don’t Know Bo” on former two-sport star Bo Jackson was the previous most-watched documentary on its airwaves. That film averaged 3.6 million viewers in 2012.

Last year’s Big3 championship game averaged a 0.48 rating and 674,000 viewers on CBS, down 31% in ratings and 33% in viewership following a 0.7 rating and 1 million viewers for the 2018 championship game on Fox. “CBS Sports was a remarkable partner for the BIG3 last season as we were able to take the league to a whole new level and reach new fans globally, utilizing CBS’ unmatched broadcast team and production, and we’re thrilled to bring the BIG3 back to their airwaves in 2020,” said BIG3 co-founder Ice Cube.

Local ratings for 27 of the NBA’s 30 teams (with the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, and Toronto Raptors not included) are in at the league’s All-Star Break, and the news is not very good for the Association. According to the ratings data compiled by the Sports Business Journal, those 27 teams are down 13% on their local RSNs, with 14 of the 27 experiencing declines in viewership. This news follows a similar trend to the national landscape, where ratings have dropped by 12%, from 10% on ESPN to to 13% on TNT and 16% on ABC.

As NBA teams jockey for playoff positioning, the league’s television networks have rebounded from some of their early-season ratings losses. During NBA All-Star weekend, TNT saw net improvements in Friday’s Rising Stars game (1 percent and most-watched since 2015), Saturdays’ 3-point and slam-dunk contest (one percent and most-watched since 2017) as well as Sunday’s pre-game show (6.3 million, an 19 percent increase) and the All-Star game itself (7.3 million, an eight percent increase). ESPN also experienced a nine percent increase in viewership with Friday’s All-Star celebrity game.

Those numbers correlate with the NBA hosting more competitive events while honoring Kobe Bryant, who died three weeks ago along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash. Although average viewership across ABC, ESPN and TNT have suffered a 13-percent decrease this season, the NBA experienced other relative improvements in recent months. Average viewership on ESPN and TNT increased by a combined six percent in December. Those viewers then increased by an average of 27 percent on ESPN, TNT and NBA TV in January.

Those numbers have not entirely offset the NBA’s declining television rating stemminged from either cord-cutting, downgraded cable packages and extensive injuries to the league’s star players. But those numbers left the NBA feeling validated on downplaying the league’s early-season bumps. “We may be affected by it a little bit more on properties because we have such a young fanbase,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a press conference during All-Star weekend. “But I am very confident we can work through it.”

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.” The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

TV ratings in bad shape

Yes, we’ve been over the ratings decline, but the situation hasn’t improved since the Sports Business Journal collected and posted data on Dec. 2. Those in the know at ESPN confirm that the more recent numbers have been brutal, save for a Lakers-Bucks game that drew interest. Maybe this is a one-season drop, mostly related to the Warriors’ gap year, but what if the NBA can’t correct course soon? Well, that has big implications for the main source of league revenue.

Not exactly, as these deals are negotiated far, far in advance. This means the NBA is running out of time to argue that it’s on an upward swing to prospective buyers. Beyond that, it looks like the upcoming TV rights market is not as favorable as it was in 2014. For instance, in a shocker, ESPN/ABC won out over CBS for SEC football rights. This could not have been taken as good news at the NBA’s league office back in New York. Not only has ESPN/ABC committed billions to a non-NBA product, depleting its reserves, but the move also makes the cable channel less dependent on NBA programming.

Do you think an in-season tournament is an interesting media property? Jalen Rose: I think it is something that can get eyeballs instead of possibly getting them during Christmas or Thanksgiving. I think always making the fan believe that the player is invested in tonight’s game especially early in the season means something. I understand it from that perspective. I don’t think necessarily players will take as much pride in it as winning championships. I applaud the best players for being about the big goal. I sort of blame media and fans for making it only about ring chasing. So now we count rings instead of appreciating greatness, which are two different things.

Jalen Rose: So players are like, wait a minute, you don’t care if I play in November? You don’t care if I play for Team USA? All you want me to do is win championships? Okay, cool. Not only are we going to join up together, but I’m going to take nights off during the regular season to make sure I’m ready to go in the playoffs because that’s all you care about. I can have a great game in January and all you guys do is say well it’s not the playoffs. Then you have my numbers so analytics are going to run the game. OK, so I get a bonus based on making 40 percent of my threes or having low turnovers. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to shoot when I’m wide open and I’m not going to take chances with the ball. Players have gotten very intelligent that they now understand the pulse of the people and that people don’t necessarily always root for individual teams. They root for players. Players now realize I can have longevity in my career and make more money. Plus, put myself in a position not to have rivals and to win rings.

Jalen Rose: When the best players are in California — LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George — the East Coast fans aren’t staying up till twelve o’clock to watch the fourth quarter. On the East Coast, I mentioned the two big guns for the Nets that are not playing and the Knicks have already fired their coach. So when all of those things are happening at the same time, there’s going to be a dip in viewership. There are more reasons, but I think that that’s the major one. I think if all of those situations are hitting on all cylinders, the viewership is as outstanding as it’s been.

Of the marquee games that TNT (15) and ESPN (27) have aired, TNT had nine and ESPN had 12 that featured at least one star player out with an injury. TNT has completed only a fraction of its telecasts for the Lakers (one of 11), Clippers (three of 11) and Rockets (one of 10), three teams that still attract consistent viewership. ESPN/ABC has done the same thing with the Lakers, (six of 19), Clippers (seven of 16) and Rockets (four of 15). In related news, the NBA suffered a 17% ratings decline on both their ESPN and TNT telecasts compared to last season.

A target date to institute this new thinking could be 2021-22 when the NBA celebrates its 75th season. It would make sense to potentially move to a 75-game season and introduce the still-to-be-determined tournament at that point. There are financial and scheduling issues that would have to be considered. Would the owners and players be willing to reduce revenue with fewer games? Would they be able to structure the season to have the Finals still finish in June? Would they be amenable to having the championship in July or even August?

TNT averaged a 0.6 rating and 909,000 viewers for Mavericks-Knicks and a 0.49 and 766,000 for Nets-Nuggets Thursday, marking the network’s sixth-straight NBA games with fewer than a million viewers. Including ESPN, nine games have failed to crack the million viewer mark thus far, compared to 19 all of last season. Ratings fell 22% and viewership 18% for New York’s win (vs. Rockets-Thunder: 0.7, 1.12M); Denver’s win sank 51% in both measures (vs. Bucks-Warriors: 1.0, 1.57M). Eight of ten TNT games have declined from last year.

TNT and ESPN don’t even broadcast in Canada. They do not get the benefit of access to the largest swath of Raptors fans — Canadians. The Raptors, by the way, could still be a very good team in the East this season, but from a ratings standpoint, they do not have a star like Leonard nor are they expected to repeat as champs. That’s the problem. “What a lot of people like to cling to is because the Raptors don’t play in the United States, it makes them ratings challenged,” Vertino said. “But my argument would be they’re a compelling team and they play a great and exciting brand of basketball, and to me, maybe we can flip it and say, ‘Maybe we can open some more eyes here that weren’t going to watch in the first place. They’re on this platform for a reason.’”

1. The 2019 WNBA Finals showcased the best of the league — superb playmaking, athleticism and taut competition. The series between the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun extended to a full five games before Washington claimed the franchise’s first title. So how was the viewership for the series? Very disappointing, especially given the quality of the games. Game 5 of the WNBA Finals between the Mystics and Sun averaged 440,000 viewers on ESPN2. That was down from last year’s Storm-Mystics clinching Game 3 (519,000 on ESPN2) and down 51 percent from the 2017 clincher (907,000 on ESPN).

The annual speech isn’t available to the public, so it tends to contain franker messaging than you might find in Adam Silver’s news conferences. This year was no exception. While the NBA has publicly indicated that there’s been a dropoff in ratings, that message gets conveyed with subtlety. In person, with the coaches, Silver was blunt, according to sources at the meeting. Viewership is down, said the commissioner, down so significantly that he badly needs the help of the men present. They must do what it takes to aid the occasionally intrusive TV broadcasts, even if that means going outside their comfort zones.

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.

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.
1 year ago via ESPN

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.)
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July 12, 2020 | 8:31 pm EDT Update
With limited apparel flexibility, face masks will also serve as one of the few opportunities for self-expression en route to games. Some players planned ahead, creating customized masks with social justice messages, personal brand logos or hometown area codes. The league has already provided all players and team personnel with face coverings as part of their arrival package in Orlando. A batch of ten co-designed NBA x Stance masks with different prints, logo executions and graphics were waiting for players in their hotel rooms. When arriving for games, players will have the option to wear the league-provided masks, their team-issued face coverings or a face covering of their own choosing.
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July 12, 2020 | 7:23 pm EDT Update
Orlando Magic second-year center Mo Bamba was on a mission during the NBA coronavirus shutdown. He came into the league as a slender 7-footer with athleticism that enabled him to block shots and pop out on the perimeter for occasional 3-point attempts. Bamba, however, wanted to add more to his game, so he focused on adding weight to his 230-pound frame. He figured adding bulk and muscle to his already athletic body would give him even more of an advantage in the paint going up against bigger NBA players.
“My mentality the whole entire time we were quarantined was to gain an inch every day and it really took, literally, every day going through it to get to where I am,” Bamba said Sunday. “It took changing my diet, it took intense workouts and it took leaning on the Magic’s strength and conditioning staff to provide a plan for me.” Bamba said a personal chef, a strict diet of five to six meals a day and constant workouts with weights were the key to his three-month transformation.
“Initially the goal was to get to 240 and that happened really quick with the change of diet,” Bamba said. “Then I started to approach the 250 mark and I was like, ‘All right, this is around the weight that I feel comfortable at,’ and once I got a little bit past 250, I was like, ‘OK, this is where I’m gonna try to cap it.’ “I feel really good right now jumping-wise … I just feel really good, man.”
July 12, 2020 | 6:59 pm EDT Update
July 12, 2020 | 6:27 pm EDT Update
Darren Wolfson: The #Timberwolves had a good group in for workouts last week, more guys coming in this week. It’s an important summer from a developmental perspective for so many. By the way, the wrap on Russell’s right ankle is normal post-workout taping. Nothing to worry about.

July 12, 2020 | 4:42 pm EDT Update
Fred Katz: Disney logistics since we’re all learning: The NBA gives 3-hr practice windows to each team since they’re sharing facilities. If a team wants to have a day off, that might be reflected in their schedule but it’s not like the NBA knows when it tells them the time they have the gym . These are boring logistics. But that’s why the language was misleading with the Wizards technically “canceling” a practice they were never scheduled to have. They’ll be back on the court tomorrow
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
July 12, 2020 | 3:47 pm EDT Update