NBA Rumor: TV Ratings

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Tuesday’s Pelicans-Suns NBA regular season game, in which Phoenix led by as many as 40 points, averaged 1.15 million viewers on TNT — up 9% from the network’s final game of 2019 (12/26/19 Blazers-Jazz: 1.06M). Earlier in the night, the Bucks’ 47-point win over the Heat averaged 837,000 (-29%). Compared to TNT’s third night of coverage last season, which took place in October and faced Thursday Night Football, Bucks-Heat increased 27% and Pelicans-Suns 47% (vs. 10/31/19 Heat-Hawks: 658K and Nuggets-Pelicans: 784K).

And the Nets also — maybe for the first time in their history — have a bigger television audience through the season’s first three games. YES Network, which broadcasts the Nets, boldly tweeted out information the Nets are beating the Knicks in viewership. The Nets’ first two games were on national TV (TNT and ABC) with their third game on YES. Through three games, gauging the New York audience, Kevin Durant’s Nets are averaging 340,667 viewers compared to the Knicks’ 146,667 viewers. Each of the three Knicks’ games were on MSG Network. (They only have one game all season on a national network.)

Wednesday’s Bucks-Celtics NBA regular season game averaged a Nielsen-estimated 2.00 million viewers on TNT, up 18% from Celtics/Sixers on the second night of last season (1.70M) and up 28% from 2018 (Pelicans-Rockets: 1.56M). Those games aired on ESPN. Later in the night, Mavericks-Suns averaged 1.22 million on ESPN — down 10% from last year (Nuggets-Blazers: 1.35M) but up 1% from the same matchup in 2018 (Mavericks-Suns: 1.21M). Through two nights, the NBA season is averaging 2.28 million viewers on TNT and ESPN — up 3% from last year (2.21M), up 5% from 2018 (2.16M), and the highest in three years (2017: 3.49M).

Adam Silver: Now, some people might suggest that the words Black Lives Matter are causing massive amounts of people to tune out the NBA. There’s absolutely no data to support that. And in fact, as I said, there’s no doubt there are some people—and whether or not they were truly our fans to begin with is unclear—who have become further engaged with the league because they believe in our players and they believe in the positions they’ve taken, even if they don’t agree with everything they say. They respect their right to speak out on issues that are important to them.

The first round of the draft averaged 2.65 million — ESPN’s top NBA audience in the month of November since 2018 — and ranked second for the night in adults 18-49 and 18-34 behind “The Masked Singer” on FOX. The steep decline and multi-year low for the NBA Draft is in keeping with the broader trend facing the sports media industry. The NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup Final, final rounds of the Masters and U.S. Open — and more — have hit historic lows since the wave of cancellations and postponements in March.

If they are able to return to that status as soon as next season, how much do you think that’ll help the league from a bigger-picture perspective in terms of TV ratings and that sort of thing? “That’s hard to predict. As a league, we recognize that the restart was tough in some ways. We don’t read too much into the ratings from this past summer. We were in a different time of year, different competition. There was obviously enormous and intense interest in election coverage. The goal of the league is to have 30 teams that all, when well-managed, are in a position to compete for championships.

League officials have publicly downplayed concerns about the recent ratings decline, pointing to the N.B.A.’s mammoth social media following as a source of optimism about its broader appeal. Vocal critics — with little to no evidence — increasingly attribute the plunge to a leaguewide embrace of social justice causes, but the dip has had an impact even if there is no clear-cut explanation. Long-held fears among N.B.A. traditionalists that the viewing audience will inevitably shrink after July appear to have been validated.

Why 72 games? I can assure you it was not just some random number pulled out of the sky. Seventy-two is an oddly specific number as well, which makes one presume the NBA did a lot of work to arrive at that figure. From a TV perspective, 72 games are just enough to satisfy the regional sports network contracts that provide local TV revenue for each team (most specify either 65 or 70 games), but still short enough to get the season banged out between Christmas and the beginning of May.

The second reason for the shift in attitudes flows out of the first: If next season is going to be financially difficult too, better to do it sooner rather than later and get back on a traditional schedule for the next season. Just rip the bandaid off. The idea is to have the 2021-22 season be the “return to normal” in the sense of a regular timeline for the season and full buildings. One thing the NBA came away with from the bubble is that the league does not want to play into the fall and go up against the NFL and college football again. Ratings were way down for the NBA Finals. While there were a lot of factors in that — the nation focused on an intense presidential and national election, more competing sports, the coronavirus shifting people’s priorities — league officials came out of it wanting to get back to a more traditional October-to-June schedule with the draft in late June and free agency in July.

The NBA Finals ended with another low rating, but nonetheless put up a stronger fight against Sunday Night Football than the previous week. Sunday’s clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals (Lakers-Heat) averaged a 4.2 rating and 8.29 million viewers on ABC, marking the lowest rated and least-watched Finals clincher on record. Ratings fell 61% and viewership 56% from last year’s Game 6, a close game that took place in June and did not face NFL competition (Raptors-Warriors: 10.7, 18.76M).

While the coverage might make one believe that the NBA suffered a sharper ratings drop than any other league, the numbers tell a different story. The 2020 NBA Playoffs averaged 3.04 million viewers across ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV (83 telecasts), down 37% from last year, when the postseason took place as scheduled in April, May and June (4.83M). The 37 percent decline is in line with the broader trend facing the sports industry since the wave of cancellations and postponements in March. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs declined an almost identical 38% across NBC’s TV and digital platforms (from 1.53M to 953K) and the MLB Division Series sank 40% on TBS, FS1 and MLB Network (from 3.04M to 1.82M).

Yes, the NBA Finals are down 48 percent from last year, but there are a number of contributing factors. The ratings purge isn’t an isolated affair. A number of observers have suggested that players speaking out on racial inequality during news conferences and kneeling for the national anthem, and the social justice messages on the back of the jerseys during the NBA’s restart have negatively affected the league’s brand and ratings. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has even been blamed for the drop in viewership because of his willingness to speak freely.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the racial composition of the NBA’s audience for this year’s playoffs is the same as last year’s. The audience for the 2020 NBA Finals through the first four games is 45 percent white and 55 percent non-white; it was 46 percent white, 54 percent non-white in 2019. This suggests that the people claiming to be turning off their televisions because of the social justice messaging aren’t the ones tuning in regularly in the first place.

There are, however, numerous contributing factors as to why all major sports leagues are seeing a ratings drop. In unprecedented circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL were playing at the same time, giving fans a multitude of options. The NBA restart was played in the summer, which doesn’t allow for a true ratings comparison of prior years because the league typically concludes in June. And it’s an intense election year in which the president was hospitalized with the coronavirus, which dominated the news cycle.

In the latest TV ratings, ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night averaged 5.3 million total viewers and a 1.9 demo rating, up sharply from Game 3‘s fast nationals (4 mil/1.5) to mark the championship series’ best preliminary numbers since its Sept. 30 tipoff. NBC’s Weakest Link (4.7 mil/0.8) dropped from last week’s pre-debate premiere yet still led Tuesday’s non-NBA fare in both measures. Leading out of that, Ellen’s Game of Games returned to 3.5 mil/0.6, while Transplant (3.1 mil/0.4) dipped from its previous outing.

Nobody anticipated good ratings for a fanless, football season NBA Finals, but this year’s series is thus far underperforming the lowest expectations. Sunday’s Lakers-Heat NBA Finals Game 3 averaged a 3.1 rating and 5.94 million viewers, marking the lowest rated and least-watched NBA Finals game on record. The previous low was set two nights earlier by Game 2, which averaged a 3.6 and 6.61 million. The low before that was set by last Wednesday’s Game 1, which as previously reported drew a 4.1 and 7.41 million.

Prior to this year, the record-lows were a 5.2 and 8.06 million for Nets-Spurs Game 2 in 2003. [Related: NBA Finals ratings history] Miami’s Game 3 win marked the first NBA Finals game to ever air on an NFL Sunday. It was dominated by NBC’s Sunday Night Football (Eagles-49ers), which won the head-to-head by 171% in ratings (8.4 to 3.1) and 180% in viewership (15.08 to 5.94M). In the key young adult demographics, SNF won by 105% in adults 18-49 (4.5 to 2.2) and a comparably modest 65% in adults 18-34 (3.4 to 2.0).

Let’s start with the headline: All together, East and West, these were two of the least-watched conference finals series ever, despite featuring the league’s most famous player (LeBron James) on the league’s most famous franchise (the Lakers). It happened despite Nielsen using “Out of Home” viewership for the first time ever at the start of September, which likely goosed NBA numbers between seven and 12 percent. Note: Don’t expect sports leagues to tell you about OOH viewership ratings inflation when they all boast about rising ratings next season.

The declines are steep and the lows historic, but all is not lost as the NBA enters the final chapter of its protracted season. The NBA conference finals averaged approximately 4.18 million viewers across ESPN and TNT, down 35% from last year (6.42M) and the smallest audience for the round since at least 2007. The 11 games played this year rank among the 14 least-watched conference final games since 2007, joining Raptors-Bucks Game 2 last year (4.39M) and Games 1 and 2 of Spurs-Grizzlies in 2013 (4.85 and 4.62M).

Heat-Celtics Game 5 the previous night averaged a 2.35 and 4.37 million on ESPN, down 38% and 37% respectively from last year (Raptors-Bucks: 3.8, 6.23M), but still the night’s top television program on any network in viewership and the key adult demographics. As one would expect, the games were the two least-watched conference final Game 5s since 2007 (Jazz-Spurs: 3.97M). Still, they helped the NBA top the charts in adults 18-49 for the 25th and 26th time in 35 nights this postseason. The number of nightly wins rises to 30 among men 18-49.

Even a buzzer-beating Laker win could not keep NBA ratings afloat opposite Sunday Night Football. Airing directly opposite NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference Finals (Nuggets-Lakers) averaged a 1.75 rating and 3.17 million viewers on TNT — marking the league’s smallest conference final audience since Pistons-Nets Game 4 on ESPN in 2003 (2.72M). No other conference final game since at least 2001 has averaged fewer viewers.

Tuesday’s Nuggets-Clippers second round NBA playoff Game 7 averaged 5.23 million viewers on ESPN, marking the largest audience of the playoffs on cable and the second-largest across all networks. ABC averaged 5.43 million for Rockets-Lakers Game 2 over Labor Day weekend. Denver’s upset win delivered cable’s third-largest live sports audience since the NFL Draft in April, behind only the previous night’s NFL doubleheader on ESPN (Steelers-Giants: 10.76M; Titans-Broncos: 7.70M). Outside of the NFL, it was the most-watched live sporting event on cable since the NBA All-Star Game in February (7.23M).

As one would expect, the Lakers’ win was trounced by the competing NFL game, which averaged 19.3 million viewers (not including out-of-home viewership). It ranked a distant second on a crowded sports night that also included the US Open women’s semifinals on ESPN (1.55M) and the NHL Western Conference Final on NBCSN (790K). Viewership sank an unsurprising 44% from the comparable Thursday window of last year’s postseason, which did not face any notable competition (Raptors-Sixers Game 6: 4.48M). The closest comparison from last year’s playoffs would be Nuggets-Spurs Game 6 in the first round, which aired opposite night one of the NFL Draft and averaged 1.80 million on TNT.

Ratings increased 16% and viewership 34% from a similar Sunday night window on TNT last year (Nuggets-Blazers Game 4: 2.5, 4.06M). Compared to ABC’s lone primetime second round game last year, Warriors-Rockets Game 3 on a Saturday, ratings fell 34% (from 4.4) and viewership 25% (from 7.23M). Compared to the same Labor Day weekend window last year, ratings and viewership were off slightly from ABC’s Houston-Oklahoma college football game (3.0, 5.44M) — though the NBA performed significantly better in adults 18-34 (1.7 to 1.1), 18-49 (2.0 to 1.5) and 25-54 (2.2 to 1.9).

Ratings around the world were also helped by Luka Doncic’s transcendent run for the Dallas Mavericks. For his first two seeding games, ratings in Spain— where Luka played for Real Madrid before coming to the NBA— were up 172% over the regular season average. And when Doncic hit the game-winner in overtime at the buzzer in Game 4 of Dallas first round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers to complete a 43-point triple-double, the video highlight generated more than 1.8 million views on NBA Spain’s Twitter account.

Last week was an “Ooh la la!” moment for the NBA and other TV shows because their viewership metrics changed quite favorably. For the first time ever, Nielsen incorporated “out of home” viewership (OOH) into the overall ratings, a boost that was projected to add between 7 to 11 percent to the overall numbers. Traditionally, only TVs in households counted towards the overall numbers. Now, TVs in hospitals, airports, restaurants and offices count as well. This is largely why viewership on games and cable news shows suddenly shot up in the first week of September. We’ve finally shifted from mph to kph.

So, there was an initial sticker shock when I checked the new numbers last week. Not only did the NBA finally crack the 4 million viewer mark with its Rockets-Thunder Game 7, but a variety of cable news shows were suddenly up huge. The actual boost in OOH viewership is something of a mystery right now, but that 11 percent upper-bound projection might be conservative. It’s difficult to make a comparison for the NBA games, since both Game 7s happened after OOH, but a few cable news shows are now doing monster numbers, even though they were projected to merely gain 7 percent in a pre-pandemic time, according to Scott Brown, Nielsen’s head of TV and audio products.

Viewership increased 17% over the comparable window of last year’s playoffs, Game 2 of a Blazers-Nuggets second round series on TNT (3.51M). Last year’s game aired exclusively on TNT, while this year’s game co-existed with RSN coverage in both Houston and Oklahoma City. The other first round Game 7 was less of a draw. Jazz-Nuggets averaged 3.39 million on ABC Tuesday night, down 24% from the comparable window on TNT last year (Celtics-Bucks: 4.45M) and ABC’s least-watched Game 7 since Bucks-Hawks on a Sunday afternoon in 2010 (3.06M). It also delivered the second-smallest primetime playoff audience ever on ABC, ahead of Celtics-Pacers Game 3 on a Friday last year (2.72M).

A new Harris Poll backs Trump’s critique of the NBA, with 39% of sports fans saying they are watching fewer games. And the chief reason why? Politics. The longtime polling agency surveyed nearly 2,000 people over the weekend and gave those who identified as sports fans—two-thirds of the total—ten options to choose from on why they are watching less basketball.

“The league has become too political” was the clear choice, with 38% of respondents who identified themselves as sports fans. “Boring without fans” captured 28% of the vote while the NBA’s association with China caused 19% of sports fans to turn the dial, another nod to a league Trump labeled a “political organization” last week after players boycotted games in response to a police officer shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Anthony Crupi: As it stands right now, television viewing is down eight percent year over year for the summer season. It’s down 19 percent for broadcast television. For the 18 to 49 demo, which if we are being honest is who the NBA and pretty much everybody else who advertises is interested in, that’s down 36 percent. In the last four years, TV as a whole has lost 52 percent of its target audience. It’s just gone — and it’s not coming back. So the NBA came back against all that and it is down year over year. It’s definitely doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that people should in any way be concerned about because what we’re talking about is very limited ratings. The numbers don’t get scale until you get to the conference championship series and the NBA Finals.

Austin Karp: I think Anthony hit on a lot of great points there. If I had to describe it at the macro level, I’d say the NBA is down right now but not out for sure. A couple years ago, when the Warriors were hitting on all cylinders, some people we’re talking like, “Oh, the NBA? When are they going to overtake the NFL?” Now we’re talking about the NBA like it’s the Titanic. We have to find some sort of happy medium there and that’s usually where the truth lies. The NBA ratings are down year over year. I think they were down 12 percent headed into the All-Star break. So being down right now, it was something we expected. A lot of the networks were backloading their schedule with Lakers and LeBron (James) games. They did not get that so they couldn’t close the gap on that.

Without that deal and its years of guaranteed income, it will be harder for the league to keep the lights on in the event that 2020-21 has no fans. There’s one big issue, though. The desperate need for a new national TV deal comes at the exact moment that viewership interest in the league has cratered. Not merely ebbed. Not subsided a bit in accordance to what one might expect with “cord cutting.” No, the NBA has fallen to a new viewership low perhaps not seen since the 1980s. Here’s one, yet to be publicized stat to know: 45 percent. As in the league’s ABC games, its premium broadcast, are down a whopping 45 percent off what the NBA averaged back in 2011-12. In that hastily promoted lockout season, ABC games drew 5.42 million viewers on average. The final tally on this latest 2019-20 season was 2.95 million average viewers on ABC games. Every ABC game from 2011-2012 received higher viewership than 2.95 million, save for a meaningless late season 1 p.m. Thunder-Bulls game that Derrick Rose sat out.

Among sports shows, PTI had the highest average (Thursday and Friday) at just 337,000 viewers, via ShowBuzzDaily. ESPN’s second and third most popular programs, First Take and Around the Horn, drew 265,500 and 202,500, respectively. Other averages included Get Up — 223,500; The Jump — 180,500; Highly Questionable —188,500; Jalen & Jacoby — 168,000; Undisputed —134,000; Speak for Yourself — 64,000. At the same time last year, with no NBA games, the programs fared far better. For comparison, the top-rated show, PTI, is down from a 568,500 average. Its decline is comparable to other measured sports programming.


“The ratings for the basketball are way down, as you know,” Trump said. “I hear some others are way down, including baseball. We have stand up for our flag, stand up for our country. A lot of people agree with me. If I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. That’s okay with me. I will always stand for our flag.” Trump also addressed Black Lives Matter, comparing himself to former president Abraham Lincoln. “Black Lives Matter,” he said. “Nobody has done better for our Black community than me. Nobody. With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln; it’s true. Criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, best employment numbers in history. Again, nobody has done for the black community – by far. I’ll give the one exception: Abraham Lincoln.”

“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.”

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.
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January 18, 2021 | 8:46 am EST Update

Veteran Jodie Meeks seeks NBA return

With several games postponed and fewer players available due to the league’s health and safety protocols, 10-year NBA veteran Jodie Meeks hopes to earn a roster spot this season. “I haven’t retired, and I’m not looking to retire,” Meeks told HoopsHype. “I’m still healthy, and I’m only 33. The way my game is, it’s not like I’m super athletic running and jumping like Russell Westbrook. I’m strictly shooting and playing defense. I could still move. I could still play for a while. I just need an opportunity.”
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Meeks worked out in Los Angeles at the Mamba Academy with several Brooklyn Nets players in November, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and DeAndre Jordan. The former Kentucky Wildcat also trained with Chris Brickley in New York during the fall. “They need to get me in Brooklyn,” Meeks told HoopsHype. “They need some shooting.”
Consistency is key, and the Clippers did what they had to do this week. They hadn’t put together an undefeated week this season, and now they have. It will mean more when they can continue to meet challenges and handle them accordingly going forward. “It helps when guys feel comfortable when they’re playing and not just thinking the game the whole time,” Leonard said. “It’s early still. We still want to get better. We’re not where we want to be. And that’s all I really got to say about it.”
The Suns (7-4) are set to resume action Monday on the national holiday that celebrates the man who led the Civil Rights Movement that brought great change to America. The game takes on greater meaning for the Suns because they’re playing in Memphis (6-6), where King was assassinated April 4, 1968. “I just hope that it doesn’t just become something we do,” Suns coach Monty Williams said as the NBA has made a game on MLK Day in Memphis an annual occurrence. “I hope it continues to become a moment in time, a moment in the year where we really think about what Dr. King sacrificed so that a guy like me can be in this position, because that’s what I think about.”
“Growing up in colonial Virginia, if you know anything about that part of the country, there was a number of tensions there,” Williams said. “Because of that, you heard the family members talk about Dr. King and many others who were not just speaking out, but sacrificing a ton so that our world, our country could be a better place.” Williams said his grandfather, who raised him, looked up to King. So while he heard stories from his family about the struggles of living in Virginia, Williams recognized how much King meant to his grandfather when hearing him talk about the famed minister.
In what they all consider their most important project, Anthony, Paul and Wade launched the “Social Change Fund” to address racial inequality issues. They involve ending police brutality, establishing criminal justice reform, expanding voting access, improving education, health equity and economic investment as well as promoting change through education and the arts. The three have donated an unspecified amount. “The Social Change Fund is timely,” Anthony told USA TODAY Sports. “It was our time to step up to the plate, put our money where our mouth is and really go out there and make change.”