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SBJ/Feb. 16-22, 2015/Media

Teams in transition post huge TV gains

Bucks, Hawks strong locally after offseason of drama

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Two NBA markets that went through tumultuous offseasons — Milwaukee and Atlanta — have posted two of the three biggest local TV ratings increases in the league so far this season.

In Milwaukee, new owners and a new coach are breathing life into the Bucks, a team that’s finished below .500 on the court nine of the past 10 seasons. This year, however, the team is winning, and Bucks fans are tuning in: Games on FS Milwaukee are up a whopping 323 percent so far this season compared with midseason last year.

Neither Atlanta nor Milwaukee has had much national exposure.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Hawks have the Eastern Conference’s best record by far this season, doing so with an exciting style of play that has revitalized NBA interest in the market — interest that took a major hit last year. Co-owner Bruce Levenson in September announced that he was selling his controlling stake in the club after self-reporting to the NBA a racially tinged email he wrote about the team’s fan base. Disparaging remarks related to then-free agent Luol Deng by general manager Danny Ferry came to light in the offseason, as well.

But Atlanta fans have taken note of the team’s inspired play on the court this season. Ratings for Hawks games on SportSouth are up 71 percent.

Interestingly, the Bucks and Hawks have seen these gains without much national exposure. Neither has appeared on TNT this season, and the Hawks have appeared on ESPN only twice — leaving their RSN partners to carry almost all of their games and reap their increased ratings.

“Most people think about the NBA as a league of stars,” said Craig Sloan, senior vice president of national advertising sales for Home Team Sports, the Fox Sports-owned group that sells national ads across most of the RSNs, including FS Milwaukee and SportSouth. “But a lot of the local strength this season is coming from teams that aren’t national stories.”

NBA teams' RSN ratings at midseason

AVERAGE RATING

TOP 5

Team rsn AVG. RATING (CHANGE*)
San Antonio Spurs FS Southwest 8.08 (+12%)
Cleveland Cavaliers FS Ohio 7.29 (+150%)
Oklahoma City Thunder FS Oklahoma 6.38 (-27%)
Miami Heat Sun Sports 4.99 (-27%)
Chicago Bulls CSN Chicago 4.74 (+62%)

BOTTOM 5

team rsn AVG. RATING (CHANGE*)
Los Angeles Clippers Prime Ticket^ 1.13 (-10%)
Denver Nuggets Altitude 0.95 (-53%)
Orlando Magic FS Florida 0.75 (-10%)
Philadelphia 76ers CSN Philadelphia 0.74 (-27%)
Brooklyn Nets YES Network 0.55 (-29%)

AVERAGE RATING CHANGE

TOP 5

team rsn CHANGE* (AVG. RATING)
Milwaukee Bucks FS Wisconsin +323% (2.24)
Cleveland Cavaliers FS Ohio +150% (7.29)
Atlanta Hawks SportSouth +71% (1.90)
Chicago Bulls CSN Chicago +62% (4.74)
Charlotte Hornets SportSouth +52% (1.14)

BOTTOM 5

team rsn CHANGE* (AVG. RATING)
New York Knicks MSG -28% (1.66)
Brooklyn Nets YES Network -29% (0.55)
Indiana Pacers FS Midwest -37% (2.76)
Denver Nuggets Altitude -53% (0.95)
Minnesota Timberwolves FS North -54% (1.18)

* Compared to midseason 2013-14.
^ For 44 game broadcasts. Four additional Clippers games that aired on FS West are not included here.
Note: Ratings information for Memphis (SportSouth), Utah (Root Sports) and Toronto (Sportsnet) was not available.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data


On the flip side, two traditionally strong NBA markets, Los Angeles and New York, occupy the lower rungs of the league’s local ratings chart so far this season.

The biggest disappointment for the league is likely the Lakers, whose games on Time Warner Cable SportsNet have fallen to a 2.01 average rating and are on track to draw the worst RSN rating in the franchise’s history — a dubious record that was set just last year. Additionally, the local ratings gap between the Lakers and the Clippers is smaller than it’s ever been. Clippers games on Prime Ticket are averaging a 1.13 rating.

The nation’s biggest market, New York, is having a tough season as well, with Knicks ratings on MSG down 28 percent and Nets games on YES Network drawing the lowest average rating in the league.

The midseason ratings also reflect the power of LeBron James as a television draw. In James’ return to Cleveland this season, Cavaliers ratings on FS Ohio are up 150 percent compared with last year (second-best in the league), and the Cavs’ 7.29 average rating is second only to the San Antonio Spurs, who are averaging an 8.08 rating for their games on FS Southwest.

For the Cavs, it’s their highest midseason rating since 2010, the season before James left for Miami. As for the Heat: It’s seen its average rating this season without James drop 27 percent compared with last year.

Staff writer John Lombardo contributed to this report.

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