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Volume 21 No. 34
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NBA beats odds, sees gain in local ratings

The Boston Celtics saw an 82 percent jump in their local ratings.
Photo: Getty Images

The NBA continues to buck the television ratings trend, with both national and local viewership showing impressive gains as the league headed into the All-Star break.

 

Nationally, NBA games on ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT are showing double-digit viewership increases. The combined 15 percent jump puts the league’s TV viewership at its best mark heading into All-Star weekend since the 2012-13 season.

 

Locally, regional sports networks are seeing a 7 percent increase in ratings so far this season. SportsBusiness Journal analyzed ratings data for 27 U.S.-based teams across the NBA. Seventeen RSNs showed increases; 10 posted decreases. Information for Memphis, Utah and Toronto was not available.

 

These gains come as other sports have seen television viewership drop precipitously over the past several years. For example, the NFL regular season posted a 9 percent drop in viewership last season across CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC — a viewership drop that followed an 8 percent drop in 2016. Similarly, college football viewership took a hit this past season, with CBS, ABC, NBC and ESPN all posting significant declines.

 

Highest Rating

TEAM RSN 2017-18 AVG. RATING (CHANGE)
Golden State Warriors NBC Sports Bay Area 8.87 (+3%)
Cleveland Cavaliers FS Ohio 8.21 (+15%)
Oklahoma City Thunder FS Oklahoma 7.01 (+13%)
San Antonio Spurs FS Southwest 6.45 (+26%)
Boston Celtics NBC Sports Boston 3.65 (+82%)

Lowest Rating

TEAM RSN 2017-18 AVG. RATING (CHANGE)
Phoenix Suns FS Arizona 0.64 (-46%)
Denver Nuggets Altitude 0.64 (+8%)
Orlando Magic FS Florida 0.61 (-11%)
Los Angeles Clippers Prime Ticket Los Angeles 0.58 (-42%)
Atlanta Hawks FS Southeast 0.58 (-50%)
Brooklyn Nets YES 0.42 (+9%)

Biggest Gain

TEAM RSN CHANGE (RATING)
Boston Celtics NBC Sports Boston +82% (3.65)
Washington Wizards NBC Sports Washington +70% (1.52)
Minnesota Timberwolves FS North +66% (2.60)
Detroit Pistons FS Detroit +34% (1.63)
San Antonio Spurs FS Southwest +26% (6.45)

Biggest Decline

TEAM RSN CHANGE (RATING)
Orlando Magic FS Florida -11% (0.61)
Sacramento Kings NBC Sports California -22% (1.33)
Los Angeles Clippers Prime Ticket Los Angeles -42% (0.58)
Phoenix Suns FS Arizona -46% (0.64)
Atlanta Hawks FS Southeast -50% (0.58)

Even in an era of cord cutting and declining numbers of television subscribers, the NBA continues to grow its audience.

 

“NBA fans continue to support and engage with their home teams,” said Kyle Sherman, president of Home Team Sports, a Fox-owned company that sells national advertising for RSNs.

  

On the local level, the league’s strongest TV markets became even stronger this season. The Warriors, Cavaliers, Thunder and Spurs ended last year with the four highest local ratings. All four teams saw their ratings increase and headed into the break as the four highest-rated local teams again. Warriors games on NBC Sports Bay Area brought the league’s highest rating (8.87).

 

The league’s best story is in Boston where Celtics games on NBC Sports Boston, which already had big ratings, have showed the biggest percentage increase of all teams so far this year. The Celtics, which are in second place in the Eastern Conference, have seen an 82 percent lift on their games.

 

Another good news story is in the nation’s capital, where ratings for Wizards games on NBC Sports Washington are up 70 percent so far this season. This massive increase comes despite an up-and-down season where the team’s all-star point guard John Wall has missed 20 games.

 

Unsurprisingly, the league’s lowest TV ratings come in markets with the worst teams, so far this season.

 

With a 19-40 record, the Brooklyn Nets own the league’s lowest local TV rating. The team’s games on YES Network pulled a 0.42 average, which actually was up 9 percent from the same point last season.

 

Overall, local NBA games on NBC Sports’ RSNs have seen a 16 percent jump this season. NBA games on Fox’s RSNs are up 5 percent.

 

Home Team Sports’ Sherman said that advertisers are beginning to take notice of the NBA’s popularity. He highlighted several new sponsors — Campbell’s Soup, Nike, Gatorade, Army, TGI Friday’s and Jameson — that are advertising on RSNs for NBA games this season.