SBJ/April 21-27, 2014/Media

Big markets take big hits in local viewership

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Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The NBA’s three biggest media markets posted significant drops in local TV viewership this season, with the five clubs in those markets shedding a combined 259,000 homes per game from last year.

Knicks ratings on MSG were down 29 percent, averaging a 2.18 rating.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

Those losses for the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls highlight a story line for the NBA that saw the league heading into the final days of its regular season last week on pace to post audience declines in six of its eight biggest markets. For teams in the NBA’s eight biggest markets, only the Dallas Mavericks (up 8,000 homes per game) and Golden State Warriors (up 11,000 homes per game) had posted viewership gains on the season, according to Nielsen data for 27 of the NBA’s 29 U.S.-based teams.

Overall, the league’s local ratings and viewership both dropped about 5 percent compared with last season. Typically, the NBA’s overall local ratings and viewership figures do not fluctuate much from season to season.

The Lakers suffered one of the biggest slides.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

One of the biggest trouble spots came in Los Angeles, where the Lakers this year completed their second season on SportsNet LA. The Lakers saw more than half of last year’s audience leave as the team played much of the season without injured star Kobe Bryant and was mired near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. With about a week left in the season, Lakers games on SportsNet LA were averaging a 2.15 rating, a record low figure for the team and down 54 percent from last year’s mark.

The Clippers, meanwhile, despite winning the Pacific Division, failed to pick up the slack: Their average rating on Prime Ticket for the season also was down, off 19 percent from last year to 1.27 average.

NBA teams’ RSN ratings

AVERAGE RATING

TOP 5

TEAM RSN AVG. RATING (CHANGE*)
Oklahoma City Thunder FS Oklahoma 8.81 (+2%)
San Antonio Spurs FS Southwest 7.49 (+15%)
Miami Heat Sun Sports 6.85 (-3%)
Indiana Pacers FS Midwest 4.19 (+99%)
Portland Trail Blazers CSN Northwest 4.06 (+46%)

RATINGS CHANGE

TOP 6

TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING)
Indiana Pacers FS Midwest +99% (4.19)
Phoenix Suns FS Arizona +80% (2.18)
New Orleans Pelicans FS New Orleans +62% (1.78)
Portland Trail Blazers CSN Northwest +46% (4.06)
Washington Wizards CSN Mid-Atlantic +33% (1.04)
Charlotte Bobcats SportSouth +33% (0.72)

AVG. AUDIENCE SIZE

TOP 5

TEAM RSN AVG. NO. OF HHs (CHANGE*)
New York Knicks MSG 163,000 (-29%)
Los Angeles Lakers SportsNet LA 122,000 (-54%)
Miami Heat Sun Sports 114,000 (-3%)
Chicago Bulls CSN Chicago 105,000 (-8%)
Golden State Warriors CSN Bay Area 81,000 (+15%)

* Compared to 2012-13 season
Note: Comparable data for Memphis (SportSouth), Utah (Root Sports) and Toronto (Sportsnet) was not available.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data


The story was similarly bad in New York, as Knicks ratings on MSG were down 29 percent even though the team was in playoff contention until the season’s final week. Knicks games averaged a 2.18 rating. Nets ratings on YES Network dropped 20 percent, to a 0.77 rating.

As for Chicago, the Bulls saw an 8 percent decline this year, to an average rating of 2.97. Like the Lakers, the Bulls played much of this season without one of the NBA’s biggest stars, as Derrick Rose injured his knee in late November.

This season’s biggest drop among teams’ RSN marks occurred in Milwaukee, where the Bucks not only posted the league’s worst record on the court but also scored the NBA’s lowest local rating and lowest viewership. Bucks ratings on FS Wisconsin dropped a whopping 65 percent from last year, with the team averaging a 0.50 rating and just 5,000 homes per telecast. It marks the first time in five years that a team other than the Charlotte Bobcats posted the league’s lowest local viewership.

The highest local ratings came in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder led the way for the second year in a row. OKC’s games on FS Oklahoma averaged an 8.81 rating, up 2 percent from last season.

Other good local stories came in Indiana and Phoenix. The Pacers, who this year posted the Eastern Conference’s top record on the court, also sported the league’s biggest year-to-year ratings increase. Pacers games on FS Midwest averaged a 4.19 rating, up 99 percent from last year.

In Arizona, the resurgent Suns saw an 80 percent ratings increase to a 2.18 average on FS Arizona. Those marks came for a club that surprised many on the court this year, as Phoenix remained in contention for the postseason until last week.

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