Thursday night’s NBA Draft was not the spoiler-free affair the league hoped for, but that doesn’t seem to have held back ratings much.
Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily reports Friday that ESPN and ESPN2’s draft coverage combined for a 2.6 overnight rating, the fifth best on record for the event.
This year’s draft was down a touch from last year’s (2.7), which makes sense given that the 2017 edition featured the 76ers, Lakers and Celtics picking in the top three, fighting for a group of big-name prospects led by the eminently buzz-worthy Lonzo Ball. The fact ESPN even came close to matching its audience from a year ago feels like a win for the network.
ESPN/ESPN2 combine for 2.6 overnight rating for NBA Draft last night. Networks drew 2.7 last year, and 2.4 in 2016. 2018 is 5th-best NBA Draft on record. Note for last year: had popular markets up top with 76ers/Lakers/Celtics going 1,2,3
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) June 22, 2018
The NBA’s effort to keep social media free of reporters sharing picks before the commissioner was able to announce them failed spectacularly when Adrian Wojnarowski simply resorted to thinly veiled euphemisms. But ultimately, the fact that the picks were public a few minutes in advance didn’t prevent ESPN from drawing a healthy audience. The draft is a spectacle as much as a way of sorting players, and most NBA fans won’t let some Woj Bombs prevent them from consuming it.
NBA Draft ratings have generally risen over the years as the event has become a bigger and bigger production, buttressed by more and more pre-draft content. ESPN took its draft-night coverage to a new level this year, producing two separate broadcasts — a traditional one on ESPN and a talk-show-style version on ESPN2 — to give fans more options, and the initiative apparently paid off.
It certainly couldn’t have hurt Thursday night that the NBA seems to be riding a wave of popularity, coming off a season in which regular-season ratings were up at both the national and local level and postseason numbers rose as well (up until the anticlimactic Finals). At this point it seems as though networks could air a live feed of Adam Silver playing Solitaire and at least a few hundred thousand people would watch.