Short season no problem for NBA on TV
There is no making up the 16 regular-season games lost by each NBA team this year due to the lockout, but as the league heads to its all-star weekend in Orlando, double-digit increases in television viewership reflect continued momentum from last season.
“We had hoped for the best and classically prepared for the worst, and we weren’t sure how our fans would react to the work stoppage,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. “There is unparalleled interest across the board now where there are more must-see games on a nightly basis.”
While average attendance through mid-February in the shortened season is flat, the television numbers show increases.
On ESPN, the NBA has generated a 1.4 average rating over 24 games from the Christmas Day season tipoff through Feb. 12, up 27 percent over 21 games from the same period last season. Average viewership is up 21 percent to 2.1 million through Feb. 12.
NBA ratings on ABC from Christmas through Feb. 12 are up 15 percent to a 4.6 rating over three games compared with last year’s five games from the same period last year. This season, average viewership is up 18 percent to 8.5 million through Feb. 12.
“I’d be lying if I thought [ratings] would be this strong,” said Norby Williamson, executive vice president of programming and acquisitions for ESPN. “People were concerned about offseason issues derailing the momentum, but that hasn’t happened. A byproduct of the compressed season from a programming sense is that it seems there is a great game on every night.”
It’s a similar story at Turner Sports, where the NBA on TNT from Christmas through Feb. 12 has generated a 1.8 average rating over 19 games, up 20 percent from the average over 16 games for the same period last season. Average viewership is up 24 percent to 2.79 million viewers through Feb. 12.
“The NBA dodged a bullet, and I am surprised by the ratings,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president and director of research at Horizon Media. “A lot of people don’t pay attention to the early-season NBA games, but it is now a well-balanced league, and the NBA has been able to capitalize on it.”
NBA TV had aired 46 games this year through Feb. 14 with an average of 358,000 viewers, a 58 percent increase.
“Clearly there was pent-up demand for basketball,” said Christina Miller, senior vice president of strategy, marketing and programming for Turner Sports and general manager of NBA Digital. “There has been no shortage of story lines.”
At the gate, the NBA was averaging 17,130 fans per game through Feb. 14, flat from last year’s 17,084 average attendance to date.
The Chicago Bulls lead the 30-team league in average attendance at 21,875 fans per game at the United Center. The Detroit Pistons are last in the league, with an average of 12,730 fans per game.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, led by rookie guard Ricky Rubio, have the largest gate increase at 18 percent, to 17,107 fans per game at the Target Center through Feb. 14. The Wolves also have sold 8,000 full-season tickets, a 33 percent increase from last year, to reach the team’s highest season-ticket sales level since the 2004-05 season.
“Rubio has served as a catalyst, but there are a lot of pieces that have come together, and fans are intrigued of not just the team today, but also having a group of young guys for the future,” said Timberwolves Chief Marketing Officer Ted Johnson.