ESPN PTI Tony Kornheiser Tony Kornheiser made his return to the ‘PTI’ studios for the first time since March 2020. Credit: ESPN

As the NBA negotiates its next TV package, Tony Kornheiser wonders why networks are willing to pay so much money for the product.

On the latest episode of The Tony Kornheiser Show podcast, the longtime ESPN personality shared an off-air discussion he had with his PTI co-host Michael Wilbon about sports TV ratings last weekend. According to Kornheiser, Wilbon labeled the Masters “dull” and believed Sunday’s slate of NBA games would draw similar viewership to golf’s first major tournament of the season. Kornheiser, however, argued the final round of the Masters was going to “kill” the NBA in viewership on Sunday. And as it turns out, Kornheiser was right.

“The highest-rated NBA game was the Laker game,” Kornheiser said on Friday’s edition of his podcast. “It had 1.4 million viewers. That was the highest of all of them. Some of them had under a million. Some of them were challenged by the UFL, which nobody watches! The UFL got 850,000, and that’s right there with the NBA on this closing day of the NBA…The Masters got six times what the highest rated NBA game got.”

Comparing the final round of the Masters with the NBA isn’t really a fair fight. We’re talking about one of golf’s premier events going up against a slate of regular-season NBA games that boasted seeding implications. Still, regular-season basketball getting beat by Sunday at Augusta prompted Kornheiser to question the prospect of bidding big money for the NBA.

“Why do networks pay so much money for this?” Kornheiser asked regarding the $24 billion that the NBA is looking to double in its next media rights deal. “Why do they pay billions of dollars for something that does not draw until the playoffs? I guess you just have to eat it until the playoffs.”

The short answer is, sporting events are appealing to advertisers because it’s one of the few things people still watch live with commercials. Accordingly, leagues like the NBA can command big dollars from networks for its product. And while NBA ratings are not what they were at its peak, the league can point to the decline of cable as a negative impact, prompting them to show more interest in finding a prominent streaming partner with its next media rights deal.

Kornheiser doesn’t understand networks spending billions on the NBA, but he did tout investing in Caitlin Clark after watching the women’s NCAA Tournament ratings success.

“I’d buy Caitlin Clark,” Kornheiser said. “Caitlin Clark, three games in a row, just dwarfing the Masters and in turn dwarfing everything else. The first and second highest rated games of Caitlin Clark beat everything last year. Beat the World Series, beat the NBA Finals.”

This all means that if ESPN left its game rights bidding up to Tony Kornheiser and Whoopi Goldberg, they’d be paying more for the WNBA, and a lot less for the NBA.

[The Tony Kornheiser Show]

About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to