NBA’s local ratings dip, matching national trend
The NBA’s local TV ratings collectively are down double digits so far this season, a drop that mirrors the league’s national TV performance.
Through Feb. 11, heading into All-Star Game weekend, aggregated ratings on regional sports networks for 27 of the 30 NBA teams were down 13% — a figure that includes Nuggets games on Altitude, an RSN that has been dropped by several distributors in Denver.
Overall, 14 teams posted ratings drops (13 of those 14 saw declines of 19 percentage points or more); the other 13 saw increases. Information for Memphis, Toronto and Utah was not available at press time.
Nationally, NBA games on ABC, ESPN and TNT were down 12% so far this season. ABC was down 16%, TNT was down 13% and ESPN was down 10% heading into the All-Star break.
For the first time in four seasons, a new team will be at the top of the NBA’s local ratings. Golden State Warriors games on NBC Sports Bay Area have been the league’s highest rated for three consecutive seasons. But the team has seen a whopping 66% ratings drop (to an average rating of 2.97) this season as it struggles on the court with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out with injuries and Kevin Durant now with the Brooklyn Nets. Golden State has the league’s worst record at 12-43.
The depleted Warriors have also weighed down national numbers. TNT has flexed out of one of their games already, but has seven more still planned. ESPN has flexed out of six Golden State games, and has two more slated for March. ABC has three more planned Warriors games and has already aired them twice.
San Antonio Spurs games on FS Southwest historically are among the best in the league and this year is no different, as the team headed into the All-Star break with the best local ratings in the league (3.51). Still, that figure was down 20% from the same point last year.
Milwaukee Bucks games on FS Wisconsin (3.45, up 24%) and 76ers games on NBC Sports Philadelphia (3.32, up 20%) will battle the Spurs after the All-Star break for the league’s best local rating. The Bucks, led by last year’s MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, had the NBA’s best record at the break, helping to make this season to date the most-watched Bucks season ever on FS Wisconsin. The Sixers, with the NBA’s best home record, are a strong draw in Philadelphia with this year being the most-watched Sixers season ever on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
The best local ratings stories are in Orlando, where Magic games on FS Florida were up 82% as the team remained in the playoff hunt, and in Los Angeles, where Clippers games were up 86% on Prime Ticket as the franchise benefits for its offseason free-agent signing of Kawhi Leonard and trade for Paul George.
Washington Wizards games on NBC Sports Washington (down 55%), Oklahoma City Thunder games on FS Oklahoma (down 51%) and Charlotte Hornets games on FS Southeast (down 52%) have seen notable declines. Outside of Altitude, the Hornets and YES Network’s Brooklyn Nets have the league’s lowest ratings.
In Washington, the Wizards’ decline started about a year ago after star guard John Wall suffered a long-term injury. The team averaged a 0.73 rating over the last 10 games last year, a trend that carried over to this season. In the Washington television market, national NBA ratings are down 47%, suggesting that it’s not just the Wizards posting poor TV numbers in the nation’s capital.
The Pelicans, which saw their ratings fall by 47% on Fox Sports New Orleans, may have a bounce in post-All-Star ratings considering that for the seven games on Fox Sports New Orleans since rookie Zion Williamson’s return from injury, ratings were up 118% versus the average rating for all other games this season.
The Nuggets-Pelicans game on Jan. 24 averaged a 2.5 local rating in New Orleans, making it the highest-rated Pelicans telecast this season to date and the highest-rated game on the RSN since November 2018. For the seven games since Zion debuted, the RSN has average a 1.8 local rating.
Nationally, the ratings heading into the All-Star break virtually ensure that the league will finish the 2019-20 regular season with a viewership drop for the second season in a row. ABC was hurt by lower numbers on Christmas and a slower start for its Saturday night slate.
On the positive side, national viewership grew from November to December and again from December to January. And on digital, NBA League Pass subscriptions are up 11% globally compared to last season and unique viewership is up 25%.
Streaming viewership via over-the-top services and internet connected devices have also seen big gains. TNT was up 32%, and ESPN was up 41%. In overall digital viewership, TNT was up 16% and ESPN was up 19%.