Storyline: TV Ratings

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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.

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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.

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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Moe Harkless on Lakers' radar

That doesn’t mean they aren’t looking, though. In fact, during an appearance on ESPN LA 710’s “The Sedano Show” on Tuesday, Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that the Lakers are waiting to see what happens with Moe Harkless, who was traded from the 37-18 LA Clippers to the 17-38 New York Knicks in the Marcus Morris deal earlier this month: “Moe Harkless is a name I’ve heard they’re interested in and monitoring and still have an eye on.”
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Andre Drummond to be traded again?

There’s some belief around the league that the Cavaliers could look to flip Drummond as early as this summer. “I don’t think [Drummond and the Cavs] will last long,” one former NBA general manager said. “I could see them trading him to a team this summer if he agrees to pick up his option. They could also do a sign-and-trade if he agrees to a new long-term deal. I don’t think he’ll be in Cleveland for long.”
Altman admitted he and Drummond hadn’t talked about what he would do with his option before the trade, but he was fine sacrificing the Cavaliers’ upcoming salary-cap space for him. “Absolutely, we consider him a potential long-term play,” Altman said. “Obviously, he has a player option that if he picks up, we think we’re in good shape in terms of our cap space. There’s no better money spent than on Andre Drummond if he picks up his option.”
That didn’t make sense for a Cavs team focused on asset accumulation at this point. “Kevin and [agent] Jeff [Schwartz] wanted a trade, but I think both knew it probably wasn’t going to happen,” the former GM said. “It’s something they’ll push for again in the summer. I think he’ll be traded this summer since the free-agent market is so bare and the draft doesn’t look like anything special. Teams need to add talent somehow.”
“There’s a lot of bad contracts they could have traded him for. The Sixers would have traded Al Horford for him, but why would Cleveland do that? They want expiring money and picks,” the former GM said. “Portland could have made a deal work, but for what? They would have really had to look at their cap space and tax money for next year and asked how far a trade for Love would really push them. Would it make them a top-four seed in the West? I don’t think so.”
Storyline: Al Horford Trade?
So just to fact-check the popular narrative, Russell’s journey to Houston started with a phone call from you, James. He said he was interested, and then the Rockets front office made it happen. Harden: That simple. If the goal was for you guys to play together again, did you ever discuss James going back to OKC? Westbrook: Discuss James coming to OKC? Yeah. Westbrook: Oh, nah! [laughs] No, that wasn’t a thought. Harden: It’s impossible. It’s impossible? Harden: It’s impossible. Why? Westbrook: I never thought about that until now. [laughs]
When did you hit your growth spurt and take that next step as a player? Jaren Jackson Jr: I probably hit my growth spurt during freshman year or toward the end of freshman year. It was probably because, I don’t know, I was eating a lot of broccoli or something (laughs). Then, I just grew. I was about 6-foot-5 and then I became 6-foot-10 real quick, so I had to figure out how not to trip over myself all the time (laughs). Once I got all of that together, I was good!

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As of Tuesday evening, even though Beilein stepping down was a mere formality, multiple coaches on staff hadn’t received an official update on Beilein’s immediate future, sources say. The Athletic reported that Beilein was prepared to walk away from the remainder of his deal, which was originally a four-year contract that contained a team option for the fifth year and was worth around $4 million per season.
The Timberwolves would retire Garnett’s jersey tomorrow if they could. He is far and away the most accomplished and most popular player to ever suit up here. The lone stretch of modest success enjoyed by the team was in KG’s prime. There appeared at one point to be a possible thawing of the iciness as recently as last season. But Garnett remains upset at owner Glen Taylor for the way things ended and a promise that he believes was broken.
Throughout that previous season, KG had made it clear behind the scenes that he planned on taking over as a primary decision-maker in the franchise. He wanted to be an owner and implement his own vision for where this team could go. That he wasn’t consulted on the decision not to retain Mitchell and the implementation of a new front office felt like a betrayal to him. “I think if you put enough blood, sweat and tears into these organizations, you should have at least the option to be able to buy into or have a piece of it,” Garnett said during an All-Star weekend appearance with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on their “All the Smoke” podcast. “Hell, you helped build it.
The reality is it is a delicate situation for them. They know that Garnett still holds a grudge against Taylor. They understand that there is a large gap to be bridged. They want things to be on good terms before such a festive event is planned. Wolves CEO Ethan Casson and COO Ryan Tanke, longtime franchise employees who have some rapport with Garnett, and Ryan Saunders, Flip’s son and the current head coach, have worked hard behind the scenes over the last several years to try to repair the organization’s relationship with its biggest star.
Former equipment manager Clayton Wilson, a longtime Garnett confidante, had a special jersey made for him and the organization bent over backward to make him feel welcome in his first game back since he retired. It was then that there was a belief that progress was being made. As it stands today, the Wolves still hold out hope that they are headed in the right direction toward the essential re-establishment of a connection with the team’s North Star.
The team Michael Jordan owns played host to the 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte, N.C. The team Jordan led to six championships in the 1990s just played host to the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Jordan made the briefest of public appearances last year, when he was essentially considered the All-Star grand marshal, and then stayed completely out of public view this year. Jordan defenders always tell me, when I bring this stuff up, that I cannot possibly understand how hard it is for His Airness to put himself out there. He’s a very private person, they always say, and makes it his mission to avoid the spotlight.
What does that player need to be to earn a signature sneaker? Harden: The whole package. Westbrook: You can’t just be one-dimensional. I didn’t deserve a signature shoe for a while, because I didn’t earn it. But I’ve earned my way, and now I have my own. I’m realistic when it pertains to that. Some players just get a shoe. Like James said: You gotta have the package. The fan base. Your play gotta speak, obviously. Outside of basketball, whatever else you got going on. You gotta be “that guy” to be able to have a shoe. Because nowadays everybody got a shoe. [laughs]
Storyline: Sneaker Deals
February 18, 2020 | 8:32 pm EST Update
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For the Clippers, Jackson’s expected signing would come with another benefit — keeping him away from the Lakers, who also hold interest in signing him to bolster their backcourt. The Clippers also acquired another Lakers target, New York forward Marcus Morris, ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline. Jackson, however, had eyes on the Clippers because of his close friendship with forward Paul George.
The Wade tributes — called “L3GACY Celebration” — will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday’s event at AmericanAirlines Arena will be a series of tributes to honor Wade’s impact on the Heat and the South Florida community. Wade’s jersey No. 3 will be retired Saturday before the Heat host the Cavaliers. Sunday, a documentary will be screened highlighting Wade’s NBA career, with the 13-time All-Star and three-time champion addressing the crowd.
February 18, 2020 | 6:54 pm EST Update
Atkinson said Tuesday that it was not a specific play or practice that caused Irving to be in pain again, but rather something he’s been dealing with continuously. “The shoulder is a tough thing,” Atkinson said. “I just think it was an on and off thing where it’s bothering you. Some days you feel good, some days you don’t feel good. But I think it got to the point it was, ‘Hey let’s see another specialist.'”