SBJ/April 24-30, 2017/Media

NBA regular season sees ratings drop

Local ratings echo dip in national numbers

Stung by early competition from the presidential election, the NBA’s local TV ratings never recovered from a slow start, falling 14 percent during the 2016-17 regular season.

Twenty teams saw their RSN ratings drop from last year, with 15 seeing double-digit declines. SportsBusiness Journal analyzed ratings data for teams across the NBA. Information for Memphis, Utah and Toronto was not available.

The NBA’s local ratings mirror the league’s national ratings trends, as the average audience across ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT dropped 6 percent this season. TNT, which had 11 more games this season, posted its lowest regular-season average since 2007-08. Ratings for its Thursday night franchise, however, remained relatively flat.

SEASON ABC (000s) TNT (000s) ESPN (000s) NBATV (000s)
2016-17 3,263 1,540 1,565 312
2015-16 3,926 1,682 1,652 345
2014-15 3,588 1,669 1,504 291
2013-14 3,584 1,900 1,678 316
2012-13 4,701 2,002 1,768 336

Source: SportsBusiness Daily research

ABC also posted its lowest regular-season ratings since 2007-08, when it averaged 3.18 million viewers. ESPN games were down 5 percent, with ESPN’s early NBA schedule hurt by competition from the World Series.

“The league is getting a large amount of national attention, with LeBron, Golden State and Russell Westbrook all national stories but what you still like to see are the major markets doing well and rating well,” said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and president of Pilson Communications. “Chicago did not have an exciting team and the Knicks and the Lakers were dreadful, and that does have an impact. You also have to deal with the growth of unrated social and digital media deliveries. You have people now that don’t have to be at home to watch.”

The declines come after the league completed its first regular season under its new nine-year, $24 billion rights extension with ESPN and Turner Sports.

First Look podcast, with RSN discussion beginning at 7:25 mark:


NBA teams' RSN ratings

Highest rating

Team Network 2016-17 avg. household rating (change from 2015-16)
Golden State Warriors CSN Bay Area 8.79 (-10%)
Cleveland Cavaliers FS Ohio 7.38 (-21%)
Oklahoma City Thunder FS Oklahoma 6.50 (-3%)
San Antonio Spurs * FS Southwest 5.78 (-34%)
Indiana Pacers FS Midwest 2.91 (-1%)

Lowest rating

Team Network 2016-17 avg. household rating (change from 2015-16)
Dallas Mavericks FS Southwest 0.84 (-47%)
Charlotte Hornets SportSouth 0.78 (-10%)
Denver Nuggets Altitude 0.71 (-11%)
Orlando Magic FS Florida 0.64 (-52%)
Brooklyn Nets YES 0.33 (-28%)

Biggest gain

Team Network Change (rating)
Philadelphia 76ers CSN Philadelphia +84% (1.71)
Houston Rockets Root Sports +35% (1.92)
Washington Wizards CSN Mid-Atlantic +24% (1.07)
Milwaukee Bucks FS Wisconsin +24% (2.17)
New Orleans Pelicans FS New Orleans +17% (1.44)

Biggest decline

Team Network Change (rating)
San Antonio Spurs * FS Southwest -34% (5.78)
Portland Trail Blazers CSN Northwest -34% (2.23)
Detroit Pistons FS Detroit -34% (1.14)
Miami Heat Sun Sports -38% (2.81)
Dallas Mavericks FS Southwest -47% (0.84)
Orlando Magic FS Florida -52% (0.64)

Note: Data for the Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes and the six Canadian clubs was not available.
* See story for details.

While the Golden State Warriors (8.79), and Cleveland Cavaliers (7.38) delivered the league’s highest local ratings, both star-studded teams saw double-digit declines, with the Warriors on CSN Bay Area down 10 percent and the Cavs on FS Ohio down 21 percent.

The Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns posted their lowest ratings in at least 11 seasons — as far back as SportsBusiness Journal has tracked local ratings. The Chicago Bulls’ 1.98 rating is the team’s lowest since 2006-07; the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2.23 rating is the team’s lowest since 2006-07. Brooklyn Nets games on YES Network posted a 0.33 rating, the lowest for any NBA team since the 2010-11 season when the Nets on YES averaged a 0.31.

The San Antonio Spurs’ 5.78 rating comes with an asterisk. A glitch in Nielsen’s monitoring system had the team’s ratings come in abnormally low. At the All-Star break, the team had a 5.11 rating. Since Jan. 7, when the glitch was discovered, the Spurs averaged a 6.67 rating, the third highest in the league behind the Warriors and Cavs. However, since February when the team was notified and the issue was corrected, the Spurs have been within historical norms of around an 8.0 rating, said Lawrence Payne, executive vice president for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

“There is no doubt that a part of our audience has migrated to other devices to watch and follow the team,” Payne said. “That is broad but that is what is happening. Also, when you go head to head with national coverage, you have a dilution.”

Ratings news was not all bad in the NBA, where at least seven teams saw their ratings increase. The biggest mover was in Philadelphia where 76ers ratings on CSN Philadelphia jumped by 84 percent to a 1.71 rating, the team’s highest since the 2011-12 season.

Other strong growth was seen in Houston where the Rockets’ ratings on Root Sports increased by 35 percent for the second-highest increase in the league, and Washington where Wizards ratings on CSN Mid-Atlantic jumped 24 percent. Milwaukee Bucks ratings also saw a 24 percent jump.

Research director David Broughton and SportsBusiness Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp contributed to this report.

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