We’ve covered the various reasons the NBA’s television numbers have been down this season from last year. In short, it’s been a bit of a perfect storm: injuries to players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and perhaps especially Zion Williamson have combined to leave networks scrambling. Teams like the Warriors and Pelicans, expected to be draws, have instead been for the most part irrelevant.
Which makes this Sports Business Journal note unsurprising: as the NBA heads into the All-Star Break after tonight, viewership is down 12% for the league’s national broadcast partners.
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) February 13, 2020
As SBJ points out, it’s not all bleak. Things have actually been trending up from the abysmal start to the season.
- The NBA’s three biggest national TV partners have registered a double-digit viewer drop heading into All–Star weekend, according to SBJ’s Austin Karp. Games on ABC, ESPN and TNT are down 12% so far this season, virtually ensuring that the league will finish the 2019-20 regular season with a viewership drop for the second season in a row. ABC is down 16%, TNT is down 13% and ESPN is down 10% from the same point last season. ABC, in particular, was hurt by lower numbers on Christmas and a slower start for its Saturday night slate.
- It’s hard to spin these numbers in a positive way, but we’re going to try. The 12% drop is an improvement over the 16% drop seen over the first month of the season. Viewership grew from November to December and again from December to January. The NBA story is better on digital. NBA League Pass subscriptions are up 11% globally vs. last season and unique viewership is up 25%. Streaming viewership via OTT services and internet connected devices also are seeing big increases: TNT is up 32% and ESPN is up 41%. In overall digital viewership, TNT is up 16% and ESPN is up 19%.
It’s unlikely that this year is going to be a banner season for the league from a ratings/viewership point of view, but there’s still time to salvage at least some positive momentum. The postseason is shaping up to be incredibly entertaining, with the Lakers and Clippers potentially battling in the West (assuming they can get through the usual Western Conference gauntlet) and the East being both more competitive within (Toronto, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, and Indiana are all good to really good teams, while Milwaukee has a claim as the best team in the league) and with the eventual Western Conference winner.
This spring and summer could be a lot of fun, and with so many teams (and therefore markets) hoping to make a run in both conferences, the final months of the regular season could draw viewers in a way that makes the early season swoon much more forgettable.