Wednesday , May , 11 , 2011 Paul Eide

NBA TV Ratings Nearing Best Ever


This year’s NBA playoffs are continuing a gradual upward ratings trend that started at the end of last season, thanks largely to a Celtics versus Lakers Finals. The trend continued through the offseason due to interest in several big name free agents, continued thru the season thanks to success in some recently dormant big time markets and now continues to rise thanks one of the most compelling NBA Playoffs in years.

But first, a little history on how far the league has come;

March 2004 saw the league’s lowest TV ratings ever, a 1.1 on ABC. That month a game featuring the Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic was actually outdrawn that day by the NCAA Division II Basketball Championship. ABC’s record average low also came during the 2004 season and was a 2.2 rating. Even two years later, to show you how dire the times were at one point, a rained out NASCAR race outscored an LA Lakers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (yes, Kobe vs. LeBron) during the regular season.
But in 2010-11, things are a lot different. Across the board ratings for televised games are up significantly. The All Star game had its highest rating since 2003, which was the last game Michael Jordan played in. The 5.2 rating for this year’s contest was a 37% percent increase from last year.
The regular season saw TNT have its most viewers in 27 years of broadcasting the league. TNT’s rating during the season was 1.6 per game, up 45 percent over last year, and brought in 2.453 million total viewers per game broadcasted. The second-best season in TNT’s NBA history of broadcasts was 1995-96, when 1.885 million average viewers tuned in and this year was even 30% better than that.
ABC also posted its biggest numbers since acquiring the rights to broadcast games in 2002 and averaged 5.11 million viewers per contest. That figure makes it the second most watched season on network TV ever, dating back to 1988-89 when NBC had the rites and attracted 5.6 million viewers per game.
The playoffs so far have continued the trend of increased TV viewership for the 2010-11 season. Bolstered by the fact that all five of the NBA’s top TV markets made the playoffs (New York, LA, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas), viewership for the first round was up 30%. First round games on ESPN, ABC and TNT were watched by 4.15 million people per broadcast, compared to 3.2 million last year. By comparison in 2007 first round games only averaged 2.7 million viewers.
Overall it can’t be disputed that this was the NBA’s best season for TV ratings since 2004 and the league has spent each season recovering from the lockout after the 1998 season when the Finals achieved a record high that has still never been approached again (18.7), coming closest in 2004 (11.5).
Interestingly, TNT has also grown its NBA ad related revenue by 30% this year, a number that is expected to be similar for ABC /ESPN. Now we can only hope that David Stern and the league find a way to avoid a lockout that took the league a full seven seasons to recover from.
With the increase in revenue for both television networks and advertisers, and attendance that was up as much as 40% for many teams, how can the league possibly have lost $300 million this season? If anything a year like this should encourage a way to stop the supposed financial hemorrhaging, which there must be some of if the league is losing that much money during a banner year. Or at the very least, encourage a way to avoid a lockout at all costs.

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