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Volume 26 No. 63
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NBA Game Audience Down 16% Over First Month Of Season

TNT saw a slight bump opening night, but has since seen its season-to-date viewership drop 16%
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

NBA game viewership on TNT and ESPN is down 16% this season to date, as injuries have taken a toll on some teams that were expected to be national ratings draws. Exclusive games on those two networks are averaging 1.46 million viewers, down from 1.73 million viewers at the same point last season. The later start to the NBA season also saw games go up against the World Series four times in '19 vs. only once in '18. TNT saw a slight bump for opening night, fueled by Lakers-Clippers, but has seen its season-to-date viewership drop 16%. There has not been another Lakers game for TNT since opening night, and the network will see LeBron James and Anthony Davis 11 more times this season as part of a backloaded schedule. TNT also will have eight more Clippers games and nine more Rockets games during the course of the season. Meanwhile, ESPN is down 14% for its games to date (1.43 million viewers vs. 1.69 million). The network has shown what is now a depleted Warriors roster four times to date, and while it has had the Clippers four times as well, Kawhi Leonard has sat half of those telecasts. ESPN has had three Lakers games to date. Last season, ESPN carried a special telecast for James' Staples Center debut as a Laker, which drew a big number. Removing that figure, ESPN is only down 7% for the season. Overall, the top game to date this season is Lakers-Clippers on opening night, with TNT drawing 3.58 million viewers for that game. The No. 2 game this season to date is Lakers-Mavericks on Nov. 1, which drew 2.57 million viewers. Over on NBA TV, the league-owned network is averaging 345,000 viewers, up 10%. Thunder-Lakers on Tuesday night (712,000 viewers) also was the net's best regular-season audience since Jan. 2, 2018. On the RSN side, 14 of 28 measurable teams are seeing gains (no Toronto figures and no figures for Nuggets games on Altitude due to an ongoing carriage dispute) (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).

CHANGING LANDSCAPE: In N.Y., Sopan Deb writes the "strangeness of this season seems to be affecting viewership, with lackluster national television ratings so far." That is "despite the largest field of championship contenders the NBA has seen in decades." On paper, this parity "should be interesting." Deb: "Blame the injuries to stars. Blame the most popular players' being on the West Coast, making them less visible to much of the country." Whatever the reason, the NBA "has some issues that aren't going away." But even a "meh" NBA season has its "share of showmanship and intriguing early trends" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/22).

TIME TO WORRY? SI.com's Jimmy Traina wrote TNT's Thursday night game also is "going against the NFL each week," so the net's audience for those games will "most definitely increase" once Fox's package ends in mid-December. The NBA should be "concerned about the dip" in viewership, because it has been "significant." However, it is "still too early in the season to panic." One possible factor for the drop is the fact that there are "no teams to either love or hate." NBA fans "need heroes and ... villains," and "right now those are lacking in the NBA" (SI.com, 11/21).