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Volume 22 No. 18
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NBA flexes postseason muscle

The NBA’s postseason got off to a vibrant start, propelled by the dynamic seven-game Boston Celtics-Chicago Bulls series that fueled the first round of the playoffs.

At the gate, the NBA sold out all but three of its 45 first-round games, the same number of non-sellouts as last year’s first round.

Game 7 of the Bulls-Celtics series was the
most watched NBA first-round game in
cable history with 6.987 million viewers.

On the television side, TNT rode the strength of the Celtics-Bulls series to a double-digit increase in viewers over last year’s first round. For the 24 games on TNT, the network averaged 3.379 million viewers, up 14.3 percent from 2.956 million viewers last year in 22 first-round games. The first-round games generated a 2.6 cable rating (2.597 million households), compared with a 2.4 cable rating (2.339 million households) for 22 first-round games last year.

Meanwhile, Game 7 of the Bulls-Celtics series was the most watched first-round game in cable history with 6.987 million viewers.

“You buy the package and you hope for a series like the one we just had between the Bulls and the Celtics,” said Turner Sports President David Levy. “Obviously, you leverage it.”

Levy would not disclose details, but said playoff sales this year are on pace with last season’s playoffs.

“We are where we were last year at this time,” he said. “It is a challenging advertising environment, but we have double-digit ratings growth. The scatter marketplace is happening closer to the dates than ever before and now we can go after those scatter dollars with inventory.” 

On ESPN, however, ratings dipped during this year’s first round.

The eight first-round games generated a 2.1 cable rating (2.040 million households) compared with a 2.4 cable rating (2.306 million households) over nine first-round games last season.

ABC’s first-round ratings also dipped slightly. Through May 3, the five first-round games on ABC generated a 3.1 rating (3.503 households) compared with six first-round games that generated a 3.4 rating (3.802 million households) in 2008.

Philadelphia was the only team unable to
fill its arena for first-round playoff games.

This season, TNT will have exclusive coverage of the Eastern Conference Finals, with ABC/ESPN broadcasting the Western Conference Finals as part of the networks’ deal with the NBA.

Web site traffic increased significantly during the first round, with page views to NBA.com up more than 40 percent compared with last year’s first round.

At the arenas, the league sold out 42 of its 45 first-round games, with the Philadelphia 76ers once again failing to fill the Wachovia Center for the team’s three home playoff dates. The Sixers lost to the Orlando Magic in the six-game series, and it marked the second consecutive year that the Sixers failed to sell out their first-round games. During last year’s 44 first-round games, the Sixers were the only team that did not sell out their three home dates.

The Sixers averaged 16,549 fans during this year’s three playoff games at 20,318-seat Wachovia Center.

“People have a lot of choices to spend their money and our focus has been on entertaining the fans that come to our games, and we believe the team is moving in the right direction,” said Lara Price, senior vice president of business operations for the Sixers. “I am not going to make excuses on the economy because we are all dealing with it and our overall attendance is up from last year. Why didn’t more people come? I honestly don’t know.”