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Volume 24 No. 238

Media

Nationally-televised NBA games during the ’17-18 season -- the second one as part of a nine-year, $24B rights deal -- saw their best average viewership since the ’13-14 campaign. Games across ABC, TNT, ESPN and NBA TV averaged 1.28 million viewers, the league’s best mark since 1.29 million in ’13-14. This season’s average also is up 8% from 1.19 million viewers last season. Each individual network saw a gain this season after each one was down in Year 1 of the media deal. ABC’s average of 3.82 million viewers over 17 games was up 17% from last season (which was its lowest season since ’07-08), but below the 3.93 million viewers from ’15-16, which was the first season with Saturday primetime games. ABC also saw a 17% jump among males 18-34 this season. The eight Saturday night ABC games averaged 3.39 million viewers, up 15% from last season (2.95 million). Sunday afternoon games on ABC averaged 2.95 million viewers, which is that window’s best figure in four years. “NBA Countdown” on ABC averaged 1.63 million viewers, up 12% from 1.46 million viewers last season, and up from 1.56 million viewers two seasons ago.

CABLE LAND: TNT this season saw its most-watched NBA regular season since ’13-14. The average of 1.74 million viewers over 67 games was up 13% from last season as well. Viewership among males 18-34 for TNT games was up 14%. “Players Only” telecasts on the net were up 17% as well. Meanwhile, ESPN saw a 4% gain for games this season. The cable net averaged 1.63 million viewers over 87 games -- ESPN's highest number of games on record -- and that figure is up 4% from 1.57 million viewers last season. The audience for ESPN two seasons ago, with much fewer games, was 1.65 million viewers. ESPN saw a 5% jump among males 18-34. NBA TV also averaged 314,000 viewers this season, up 1% from last season, but down from the net’s record set two season ago (345,000).

VIEWERSHIP TREND FOR NBA REGULAR-SEASON GAMES
SEASON
ABC (000)
TNT (000)
ESPN (000)
NBA TV (000)
'17-18
3,818
1,742
1,628
314
'16-17
3,265
1,540
1,566
312
15-16
3,926
1,682
1,652
345
'14-15
3,588
1,669
1,504
291
'13-14
3,584
1,900
1,678
316
Download the
NBA Regular Season Viewership Trend

AROUND THE LEAGUE: The NBA also performed well regionally this season, with games on RSNs averaging a 2.4 local rating, up 4% from last season. Meanwhile, NBA League Pass set a record for worldwide digital subscriptions, up 63%. The service this season introduced new features such as in-arena coverage during TV breaks, a VR package, monthly pricing options and Spanish-language video for some games. On social media, the NBA set a new record for interactions at 808 million (+25%), as well as video views at 11 billion (+43%). Since the end of last season, 8.7 million followers have joined the NBA social media outlets. Overall, the league has more than 1.5 billion likes and followers combined across all league, team and player social platforms worldwide.

ESPN's new morning show "Get Up!" has suffered from low viewership during its initial episodes, and author James Andrew Miller said the show's key players and execs "need to get their act together by the beginning of football season" and "basically have until next year’s Super Bowl" to right the ship. Miller, appearing on Richard Deitsch's media podcast for THE ATHLETIC, said, "The idea of throwing so much ESPN horsepower at one show automatically suggested that this was something that was going to be a big deal for them. Because it’s a big deal for them, I think the headline right now is that they still have time. ... I don’t think anything is going to happen to it, no matter what the ratings are. But with that said, it’ll be interesting to see what (new ESPN President Jimmy) Pitaro’s patience level is going to be with it versus (former ESPN President John) Skipper’s, because Skipper gave birth to this. If he was still there, I think they certainly would have a built-in margin of error that (Pitaro) may not necessarily have with that. I don’t think they're thrilled with the ratings, but ... they knew they were trying to change viewing habits at a very competitive time of day.” Miller noted ESPN morning shows have been "losing viewers, so it’s a tough place to come in." He also said there have been a "few things that have been a tad askew for me, like having this reminder on the screen that ‘SportsCenter’ is on ESPN2." Miller: "Why would you want to do that? Why would you remind people about something that they already know is right on the next channel? … The idea that was there immediately said to the viewers, 'We’re not going to do any of those things so if you want those things, they’re next door.’ It’s a hell of a way to watch a show.”

GROUP EFFORT: Miller said of the makeup of the show and its effect on ratings, "It’s not called ‘The Mike Greenberg Show,’ and the fact that Jalen (Rose) and Michelle (Beadle) are so prominent makes it an ensemble piece. … (Greenberg) hasn’t positioned himself as a controversial figure that gets some of those higher numbers. I think they were smart to include a group dynamic, and because of that group dynamic and the fact that it’s three hours every day, there’s a lot to toy around with. I still think that they seem to believe that there’s going to be growth to this show and the timing of the debut is going to turn out to be really great.” Miller added, “There’s got to be a lot of smart people over there who have the ability to take talent that they believe in and talent that has received a lot of support from the audience before, and turn it into a successful TV show."

WHAT DOES THE SHOW WANT TO BE? Deitsch noted that the show had a lot of “‘SportsNation’-y kind of stuff,” and that it felt “overly formatted.” Miller: “I had someone tell me that they’re surprised by two things in the first week. One was that it didn’t feel like a company-wide effort. One of the things that they used to do very well was no matter what else was going on in the ESPN universe, you kind of flood the zone with this cross-promotional world of the debut of something. ... The second part was that while they’ve had some guests, given all of the time they had before the debut, it could have been a booking show, a guest-driven show, in addition to whatever kind of show they wanted to have. … It gets back to the central question: Why do people want to tune into this show? If it’s to see those three people interact, that’s fine, but I don’t know if that number is really big enough. ... There’s the highlights and the analysis that you might get on ‘SportsCenter,’ but then you ask yourself if you’re differentiating enough." Miller added, "You can’t cancel it after four or five months. It wouldn’t make sense, so I think the best thing is to is continue to be as open to development and change as possible."

FORCED ERROR? The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami said of the show, "It just feels slow to me. I thought it was going to be peppier. I thought there was going to be more and I don’t feel it. … If they can deliver a great show in two months, then we won’t be talking about this as much, but this is probably about as poorly as you can open up something on this big of a stage.” Black Sports Online’s Robert Littal added, “ESPN is very stubborn, and this is a case of them probably realizing early on that this wasn’t going to work, but because they’re ESPN and the worldwide leader, they’re like, ‘We’re going to force this on you!’" (“Sports Media with Richard Deitsch,” THEATHLETIC.com, 4/12). FOXNEWS.com's Brian Flood noted “Get Up!” was "in trouble before it even debuted." A feature in The Hollywood Reporter last month "not only implied that the show would dabble in politics but also revealed the salaries of the co-hosts." ESPN insiders were "fuming at the story’s headline," -- ESPN Plans To Wake Up Woke With New Morning Show" -- and the net "downplayed the role politics would play on the show." The show "hasn’t taken a political stance thus far, but many critics feel that it’s only a matter of time" (FOXNEWS.com, 4/11).

Photo: ESPN+

Kobe Bryant's new ESPN+ show will involve him "taking viewers through the process of breaking down film and solving the playoff puzzle," according to Sam Amick of USA TODAY. The show, called “Detail,” debuted Thursday alongside the launch of the new streaming service and "will run throughout the NBA playoffs." There are 15 episodes scheduled, with seven slated to air during the NBA Finals. Bryant is credited as the "writer, producer and host" of the venture, which is a "partnership between ESPN and Bryant’s Granity Studios." He said, “When people talk about basketball -- the playoffs, in particular -- they keep it on a very superficial level. ... But nobody is looking at why things happen." He added, "I used to break down film in a very, very specific way in order to win a game in the playoffs. So I actually created a show that was just that. If I took on the personality of James Harden, of Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, whoever. If I was them and we just played Game 1, I go home and I watch Game 1, (so) what am I learning from that? What would I be studying for that to get ready for Game 2? That's what this show is” (USATODAY.com, 4/12). In L.A., Tania Ganguli notes the project has a "very narrow focus" and Bryant "isn't concerned about creating a show that has a broad appeal." He said, "There will be certain things that a casual fan may not understand. There will be certain things they won't get but I do believe that will pull them along." Bryant added the "elite, high level of conversation" will "pull fans along where they understand the game and see the game at a deeper level." The first episode features Bryant "breaking down Game 6 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals" (L.A. TIMES, 4/13).

JUST THE BEGINNING: ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said the launch of ESPN+ will be a “fluid process” and the company “will examine the data daily and make changes both on the product side and also on the content side.” He added ESPN will “try to secure additional rights.” CNBC’s Julia Boorstin noted Disney Chair of Direct-to-Consumer & Int'l Kevin Mayer said ESPN+ “may generate losses for a number of years but it will be profitable in the not too distant future.” Pitaro: “In a world where things are changing not just monthly but weekly and in fact daily, we like the fact that ESPN+ will give us that optionality.” CNBC contributor Dan Nathan said, "Think of this as a beta test." Nathan: "They're going to add a lot of stuff to this. If you're a shareholder in Disney and you think there’s going to be an ESPN turnaround, this excites you. If doesn’t matter in three months what the numbers are. If they continue to innovate on this thing they’re going to migrate tons of ‘SportsCenter’ content eventually on it.” But CNBC contributor Steve Grasso said ESPN+ is going to “cannibalize” their other products (“Fast Money,” CNBC, 4/12).

EARLY REVIEWS: CABLEFAX DAILY notes there was some "confusion" on social media yesterday "over how to actually get" ESPN+. Instead of "searching for it in the app store," consumers must "download the ESPN app to access ESPN+ content." But after downloading the app "things got a bit more confusing." Consumers are "given the option to log in to the ESPN app or sign up later." Choosing the latter "immediately brought up the video rich ESPN app with ESPN+ content interwoven." A fair assumption would be consumers "couldn’t watch something like the '30 for 30' premiere of 'The Last Days of Knight' without subscribing or at least agreeing to a trial," but it is possible to "view the whole documentary" without doing so (CABLEFAX DAILY, 4/13). THE ATHLETIC's Guillermo Rivera wrote ESPN+ is "easy to navigate and select preferences." Finding MLS matches is "not difficult and as advertised, there is plenty of other content to choose from" (THEATHLETIC.com, 4/12).

Photo: OKLAHOMAN

Thunder VP/Broadcasting & Corporate Communications Dan Mahoney said that the team believes play-by-play announcer Brian Davis' racially insensitive remarks on Wednesday were "offensive and inappropriate," according to Fred Katz of the NORMAN TRANSCRIPT. Davis during the regular-season finale "referred to Russell Westbrook as 'out of his cotton pickin' mind.'" Mahoney said, "Brian assures me that it was not meant in any derogatory way, and he apologizes. But again, we feel strongly that it's inappropriate and offensive." It is yet to be determined if Davis will "address his comments on a future broadcast" (NORMAN TRANSCRIPT, 4/13). The phrase "loosely means 'crazy,'" and has its origins in "describing workers who harvested cotton crops in the South." It is often "perceived as derogatory, with racial overtones," and Davis' use of the phrase "set off a firestorm on social media" (ESPN.com, 4/12). ESPN's Will Cain said that the comment probably "was not intended with any malicious or racist intent," but that "doesn't mean it's right." Cain: "It's also used by people from every side of the racial spectrum. ...It is not something that people have uttered for quite some time meant to evoke racist intentions. ... He didn't say anything with racist or malicious intent" ("The Will Cain Show," ESPN Radio, 4/12).

In Boston, Chad Finn notes it has "been a hectic year" for NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury as he "moved from the studio to take on some color analyst duties when Eddie Olczyk underwent treatment for colon cancer." Milbury was "in studio for NBCSN’s 'NHL Live' pregame program Wednesday night" along with Olczyk and host Liam McHugh. He moved to the broadcast booth "alongside Doc Emrick for Bruins-Leafs Game 1" on Thursday night. Milbury said, “They’re really two totally different animals, different jobs. In the studio, you have time to get ready, to think about what you might want to say, time to react." He noted while in the booth , he has to be "on it right away, and sometimes that’s dangerous because it’s your thought in the moment that comes out." Milbury: "It’s different, but it’s fun" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/13).

TOUGH LOVE: In N.Y., Mark Sanchez notes while NFL Network's Mike Mayock is best known as the net’s "draft guru," he claims his "passion lies in the booth." However, he said during an interview on Houston-based KILT-AM, "When you don’t have a big name ... if you don’t have a Hall of Fame jacket, it’s hard to get a high-level job calling games in our industry.” Mayock: "I don’t understand that thought process. Troy [Aikman is] great, but there’s a stable of other guys who can do it really well" (N.Y. POST, 4/13).

A TRADITION NOT FOR ME: NBC's David Feherty said he "never felt comfortable" while working The Masters when employed by CBS. During his time at Augusta National, Feherty sat "in the tower above the par-5 15th hole rather than his usual position of on-course commentator, something the Masters does not allow." Feherty "worked the Masters for 19 years, but even now he has mixed feelings about his time at the event." He said, “It was a different environment there. I didn’t feel like I could be myself there. I’m not sure they wanted myself. There is not much humor in the event there. I always had to alter my style” (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 4/12).

BACK IN TOWN: Former ESPN anchor Jay Crawford and former NFLer Tim Couch will call the Browns' three "locally-televised preseason games" this year. Crawford is a "lifelong Browns fan and Sandusky native," while Couch was the team's first draft pick after its return to the NFL in '99 (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/12).

Building off strong Spring Training numbers, the Yankees and Mets have seen some early local and national TV viewership success. Yankees-Red Sox on Wednesday night (568,000 viewers), which featured a bench-clearing brawl, was MLB Network’s best regular-season audience since Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium in '14. Orioles-Yankees last Sunday (4.69 local rating in N.Y.) also was YES Network’s highest-rated weekend game since ’12. Meanwhile, SNY drew a 4.50 local rating in N.Y. for Monday night’s Mets-Marlins, which is the Mets’ second-best figure in the market since September 8, 2015, when team played the Nationals (4.52 rating).

A TALE OF ONE CITY: The Manchester United-Manchester City match on Saturday afternoon had a total audience delivery of 1.72 million viewers on NBCU outlets. Combining 1.35 million viewers on NBC, 309,000 viewers on Telemundo and an average minute audience of 59,800 viewers on the NBC Sports app, the game would be the most-watched EPL match in U.S. history.

NOTES: The second race of the F1 season, the Bahrain Grand Prix on ESPN2, averaged 683,000 viewers on Sunday morning, up 65% for the same race last year, which aired on CNBC and was the third race of the season (one weekend later in the calendar)....Minnesota-Duluth's win over Notre Dame in the NCAA Hockey National Championship game on Saturday night drew 653,000 viewers on ESPN2, marking the best Frozen Four finale since '14....The Lightning averaged a 1.83 local rating in Tampa-St. Pete during the '17-18 NHL regular season, marking FS Sun's best figure in the 25-year history of the franchise on the RSN.

The chart below lists final audience figures from select recent sports telecasts.

TELECAST
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
RAT.
VIEWERS
(000)
NCAA Basketball Championship:
Villanova-Michigan
4/2
TBS/TNT/
truTV
9:18-11:39pm
n/a
15,967
The Masters: Final Round
4/8
CBS
2:00-7:00pm
7.9
13,027
The Masters: Third Round
4/7
CBS
3:00-6:45pm
5.3
8,140
The Masters: Second Round
4/6
ESPN
3:00-7:46pm
2.6
3,913
The Masters: First Round
4/5
ESPN
3:00-7:21pm
2.0
3,006
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series:
O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 (Texas)
4/8
FS1
1:54-6:10pm
1.7
2,823
NBA: Thunder-Rockets
4/7
ABC
8:31-11:05pm
1.7
2,673
NBA: Warriors-Thunder
4/3
TNT
8:14-10:43pm
n/a
2,055
"Jim Nantz presents
Fred Couples at The Masters"
4/8
CBS
1:00-2:00pm
1.2
1,820
NBA: Wizards-Cavaliers
4/5
TNT
8:4-10:38pm
n/a
1,745
"NBA Countdown"
4/7
ABC
8:00-8:31pm
1.1
1,708
MLB: Mets-Nationals
4/8
ESPN
8:00pm-12:33am
1.0
1,576
NASCAR Xfinity Series:
My Bariatric Solutions 300 (Texas)
4/7
Fox
3:09-5:45pm
1.0
1,473
EPL: Manchester United-
Manchester City
4/7
NBC
12:30-2:30pm
0.9
1,348
"Paterno" (premiere)
4/7
HBO
8:00-9:45pm
n/a
1,304
NBA: Celtics-Raptors
4/4
ESPN
8:01-10:35pm
n/a
1,294
NBA: Spurs-Lakers
4/4
ESPN
10:35pm-1:13am
n/a
1,287
"Beverly Hills Dog Show"
4/8
NBC
1:00-3:00pm
0.7
1,148
"The Masters: Sergio"
4/8
CBS
12:30-1:00pm
0.7
1,004
Liga MX: Monterrey-UNAM Pumas
4/7
Univision
7:55-10:01pm
0.5
920
NHL: Rangers-Flyers
4/7
NBC
3:12-6:00pm
0.5
759
Soccer: Women's Friendly:
U.S.-Mexico
4/8
Fox
1:45-4:00pm
0.4
627
Liga MX: Necaxa-Club America
4/7
Univision
10:01pm-12:00am
0.4
610
"SEC Storied": "Maravich"
4/7
ABC
4:00-5:00pm
0.4
500
"World of X Games: Moto X Dirt"
4/7
ABC
3:00-4:00pm
0.3
434
Download the
Audience Analysis Chart