NBA In-Season Tournament Dec 9, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with teammates and the NBA Cup after defeating the Indiana Pacers in the in season tournament championship final at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament concluded on Saturday with a Lakers win over the Pacers, and viewers tuned in for the finale.

Per a release from ESPN, 4.58 million viewers watched the title game on ABC and ESPN2. The release notes that this is the most-watched regular season game, excluding Christmas Day, on any network since February 2018 (Cavs-Celtics, 4.64 million, per Sports Media Watch).

The ESPN2 alternate broadcast, NBA Unplugged with Kevin Hart, brought in nearly 10 percent of the total game audience, averaging 439,000 viewers. 4.141 million viewers watched the standard broadcast on ABC.

Viewership was up 46 percent from the ABC Saturday primetime opener last year, Celtics-Warriors, and 64 percent from the full season ABC Saturday primetime average for NBA games.

On Thursday, viewership for the semifinal doubleheader was less impressive. 1.6 million watched the Pacers’ win over the Bucks on ESPN at 5 p.m. ET, while 1.741 million watched the Lakers’ win over the Pelicans on TNT in a game that tipped off after 9 p.m. ET. The games were the second and third most-watched live sporting events on Thursday, behind just Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football game between the Patriots and Steelers.

So, what should we make of the In-Season Tournament after one year? It’s definitely not going to be one-and-done, as the league is already talking about improvements for next year. There was enough promise with the tournament for the league to continue pushing it forward next season, and the base viewership level was strong enough for the league’s media partners to continue airing the games.

The big question is whether or not there is enough interest from potential future media partners to sell a package specifically for the In-Season Tournament games. Could a smaller package be carved out for an outlet like Amazon or NBC, often linked to NBA rights?

After just one year, the In-Season Tournament has thrown a wrench into the NBA’s media rights negotiations. It remains to be seen if the games in future seasons will be carved out into their own package or included in larger, more encompassing packages, but it’s still yet another thing to keep an eye on as the NBA’s talks with media partners continue to develop.


About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.