One of the most interesting changes to this year’s national NBA TV schedule saw a lot more nationally-televised games for the New Orleans Pelicans thanks to the presence of No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson. But with the Pelicans announcing Monday that Williamson had undergone knee surgery and would be out 6-8 weeks, the early nationally-televised games involving New Orleans now look much less interesting. The Pelicans have a franchise-record 30 nationally televised games this year; here’s what they have through Dec. 16, which would be eight weeks.
TNT: New Orleans at Toronto Oct. 22, vs. Denver Oct. 31, at Phoenix Nov. 21, vs. Dallas Dec. 3.
ESPN: New Orleans vs. Dallas Oct. 25, vs. LA Lakers Nov. 27, at Milwaukee Dec. 11.
NBA TV: New Orleans vs. Golden State (Oct. 28), at Brooklyn (Nov. 4), vs. Houston (Nov. 11), vs. Portland (Nov. 19), at Utah (Nov. 23), at Oklahoma City (Nov. 29), vs. Detroit (Dec. 9).
Altogether, that’s 14 of the Pelicans’ 30 national games potentially being played without Williamson, who’s already proven to be a solid ratings draw (in both the NCAA and the NBA summer league). And those New Orleans games look much less interesting minus Williamson, especially following the Pelicans’ move to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers this summer. It’s also perhaps notable that New Orleans is the 50th-largest Nielsen market nationwide, and so it’s no longer counted in overnights by Nielsen, which shifted down from 56 to 44 markets for overnights this year. So that’s a general downside to featuring the Pelicans (their local audience won’t count in overnights the way a larger city’s would), and those matchups now look even worse from a national standpoint without Williamson.
This is an interesting injury situation, as it’s more likely to have a major impact on the broadcast ratings than on the standings.
However, Williamson’s injury is going to keep him out of a lot of early New Orleans games, which is bad for both the Pelicans’ chances of winning enough to get into the playoffs and for the ratings for the national networks that are planning to broadcast early Pelicans’ games. Without Williamson, New Orleans may be far less competitive in those games. And we’ll see what that means for the ratings.
(Update: this post originally had the Pelicans in the East, not the West. Our apologies.)