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Volume 22 No. 7
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NBA local ratings dip

Trend mirrors what NBA saw in national viewership for regular season, start of playoffs
The New York Knicks saw their ratings on MSG fall 38 percent this season. Only one other team had a larger decline.
Photo: getty images

Huge drops in two of the NBA’s three biggest television markets contributed to an overall 4 percent decline in the league’s local ratings this season.

The New York Knicks (down 38 percent on MSG) and Chicago Bulls (down 24 percent on NBC Sports Chicago) had two of the four biggest local TV ratings decreases this season. The Bulls’ 1.36 rating is the team’s lowest in 13 years.

Not surprisingly, the biggest ratings decline came in Cleveland where the departure of LeBron James from the Cavaliers caused Fox Sports Ohio ratings to drop 58 percent. Conversely, James’ new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, posted a 31 percent ratings increase on Spectrum SportsNet — the team’s highest since 2013.

Sports Business Journal analyzed regular-season ratings data for 28 U.S.-based NBA teams. Overall, 15 teams posted local ratings gains during the regular season, 12 saw decreases and one remained unchanged. Information for Memphis and Toronto was not available.

On a national level for the regular season, the NBA saw a drop in viewership as well, with James’ move out West, his subsequent injury and some decline in interest around the Golden State Warriors contributing to the drop. Game telecasts across ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV in 2018-19 (1.2 million average viewers) were down 5 percent from last season, which was the best audience since the 2013-14 season. NBA games this season were still up 3 percent from two seasons ago. Individually, each network saw a drop for 2018-19.

The regular-season decline spilled into the first two weekends of the NBA playoffs. The audience for telecasts across TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV — 2.66 million viewers — was the lowest figure since at least 2011, when NBA TV numbers were first publicly available. Playoff games were down 18 percent compared with the same point last season. The absence of James in the postseason affected the numbers, as did head-to-head competition with the Masters on the opening weekend of the playoffs.

The defending NBA champion Warriors had the league’s highest local rating, posting a 7.42 on NBC Sports Bay Area. Still, this year’s rating was down 11 percent, suggesting that “Warriors fatigue” could be affecting the team’s ratings. This marked the third consecutive season that the Warriors’ local ratings declined. The team has led the league in local ratings for each of those three seasons.

Nationally, TNT carried 12 regular-season Warriors games, averaging 1.9 million viewers, which was down 25 percent from last season (also 12 games) and down 28 percent from two seasons ago (10 games). But on ESPN, the 13 Warriors games (2.04 million viewers) were up 1 percent from a season ago, but down 6 percent from two seasons ago.

The biggest local ratings increase came in Dallas where the Mavericks saw an 88 percent jump on Fox Sports Southwest, fueled by the emerging stardom of Luka Doncic and the final season of future hall of famer Dirk Nowitzki.

The on-court success of the Nuggets drove a 74 percent ratings gain on Denver’s Altitude Sports, the second-highest increase.

The Milwaukee Bucks, (a 3.1 rating), Philadelphia 76ers (2.7) and Utah Jazz (6.6) each delivered their highest ratings dating to 2003.

The lowest ratings came in Brooklyn where the playoff-bound Nets drew a 0.46 rating on YES Network. The good news for the Nets is that despite the league-low numbers, regular-season ratings increased by 22 percent.

David Broughton contributed to this report.