Between cord cutters and controversies (it’s mostly the cord cutters and the NFL being slow to adapt to a new media landscape), there has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the declining ratings with the NFL.
Adam Silver is sitting somewhere just smiling as the NBA ratings for national games keeps going up. From Michael Singer with the USA Today.
Between ESPN, TNT and NBA TV, the league’s viewership is up 32% this season and averaging 1.4 million viewers according to Nielsen, the highest start to the season since the 2010-2011 campaign. That was also LeBron James’ first year in Miami.
Last week’s Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game was ESPN’s most watched regular season game (3.2 million) since Christmas of 2016. TNT’s opening night broadcast between the Cleveland Cavs and Boston Celtics, while ultimately marred by Gordon Hayward’s injury, was still the second-most watched season-opening telecast in the network’s history with an average of 5.6 million viewers.
Local television ratings tend to be up and down with the teams (although they feel the cord cutting more on traditional broadcasts, and they are doing more streaming, which is growing rapidly).
The NBA has thrived when it has big stars to promote, and right now the game is loaded with them from the older guard — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, etc. — through young stars like Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The league also has a resurgent Celtics team in a major market, a lot of buzz around Lonzo Ball and the Lakers, and Knicks fans have genuine reasons for hope. Then there are the star-powered teams in Golden State and Cleveland.
It’s all doing that while players are more active politically, which plays well with the NBA’s generally younger, more urban and diverse fan base. NBA fans want authenticity, and they are getting it.