NBA Market Size Numbers Game


With so much talk about how big market NBA teams have a better chance of winning than their small-market counterparts, here’s a quick look at some misconceptions about market size in the NBA.

Of the 29 U.S.-based NBA teams, 22 play in one of the nation’s top 25 television markets. Considering that there are 210 Nielsen-designated television markets in the United States, an argument can be made that there are zero small market NBA teams. The league’s smallest TV market, New Orleans, is 52nd.

That being said, some NBA markets are certainly smaller than others. Take as an example Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, the nation’s #16 market. With its 1.581 million TV homes, Miami is nowhere close to New York (#1, 7.515M), Los Angeles (#2, 5.667M) or Chicago (#3, 3.503M). It is, however, barely ahead of Cleveland (#18, 1.526M), Orlando (#19, 1.453M), and Sacramento (#20, 1.409M).

In fact, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company play in a smaller market than the Timberwolves (#15 Minneapolis has 1.754 million homes) and Pistons (#11 market Detroit has 1.884 million).

Of course, it was James, Wade and Chris Bosh who began the latest ‘sky is falling’ storyline in the NBA, that of superstar players leaving their beleaguered small market teams for big market bullies.

That certainly wasn’t the case for James, who moved from Cleveland to a city with fewer than 100,000 additional TV homes. However, with Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams all leaving smaller market teams for one of the nation’s top three markets, the fear is that the league’s talent will concentrate in just a few select big cities.

But a look at the current standings indicates that those fears are premature and unfounded at best. The teams in the five largest NBA markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas) have a combined winning percentage of .557. By comparison, the league’s five smallest markets (Milwaukee, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Memphis and New Orleans) have a combined winning percentage of .591.

Another misconception is that there is a significant difference between a ‘big’ market and a ‘small’ market. As Kenny Smith told SMW earlier Thursday, there are “only three or four really big markets” (, 3/10/11).

The gap between the number of TV homes in #1 market New York and #5 market Dallas-Ft. Worth is 187% — virtually equaling the 188% gap between the number of homes in Dallas and #35 market Milwaukee. In other words, the markets are much more concentrated outside of the top five. Certainly, while New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia are massive television markets, once you get past those four, the differences are not nearly as great.

List of NBA Teams and Regular Season Records by Market Size

# Market # of TV Homes Teams Record (as of Mar. 9)
New York
Los Angeles
Dallas-Ft. Worth
Washington, DC
Minneapolis-St. Paul
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
Trail Blazers
Salt Lake City
San Antonio
Oklahoma City
New Orleans
  • Nbahoops2011

    Good to see that Paulsen keeps remaining one of the few OBJECTIVE guys out there.

    Looks to me many of those “the sky is falling!!!!!OMG!!!inmates running the asylum” types have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s just absurd how the media always tries to make things bigger and worse than they actually are.
    It’s also ridiculous how many of them don’t get their facts straight and don’t do their homeworks before posting something. It’s months I’ve been telling several columnists (via e-mail) Miami is a smaller market than cities like Detroit or Minnesota and is slightly bigger than places like Cleveland, Denver, Sacramento, Orlando etc. and, as you could expect, they ignore those messages..because, obviously, they hate when somebody proves their “the sky is falling” theories wrong, and they hate when somebody showes them they didn’t do their homeworks before posting an article.

    Seriously, if I were in charge I’d be firing writers left and right (no ifs and no buts) for not knowing their facts. I mean, isn’t a rule of journalism knowing what you’re talking about, having your facts straight?

    Most sports articles look more and more like fan posts on message boards.

    • Russkent1984

      Good point.

      What these numbers don’t take into account is the number of other pro teams that share these TV numbers.

      The big markets are saturated by multiple pro teams.

      For example: LA shares 5.7 million TVs with 2 nba, 2 nhl, 2 mlb + a mls and others.

      I’m not suggesting that people don’t watch multiple teams but there must be a factor relating viewing % and number of teams.

      In contrast, look at a team like OKC. Not only are they the only pro team in the city, they’re the only pro team in the state. In cases like this there must be a multiplying factor, which takes into account viewers in the state who also watch the team.

      • JakeFrankie1

        I understand your point, I study this stuff. I only watch Basketball nothing eles, But Wouldn’t for Example in LA Lakers are the most popular team So when they make the NBA Finals more people there will watch that then The Dogers making there final.
        Like In Boston more people will watch the WS if Red Sox make it cause there the most popular team. That doesnt mean the other teams aren’t popular Red Sox got a edge in Boston like the Lakers in LA.

        I always find it intresting How big of a Rating Lakers vs Kings from 2002 had, I always wondered how big off a effect did Calfornia had in that series. It got a epic 14.2 or something like that. I’m sure kings being the only pro team helped.

        • Michael Pride

          Miami metro is split into 2 tv markets. combined TV markets would put it at around 2.5 million households. So it decieving to think that the 7th largest metro area and 4th largest urban area is a small TV market. Most people dont realize that miami’s metro area stretches for 110 miles north to south and all of that is urban, thus putting it only behind NYC, LA and chicago in urban population. Only NYC metro area stretches farther.

      • ThatCrazyGeneralG

        2 MLS!

    • Michael Pride

      Miami’s TV market is smaller because its metro area is split into two TV markets. metro area population is 5.6 million.

  • Oo

    Is this NBA? No Toronto?

    • Paulsen

      This covers the 29 U.S. based NBA teams.

  • Chad

    I don’t see the first 2 days as any problem, but I could see the weekend, maybe having some issues, with most of the games spreadout, you get a bad 1 there and people can’t watch another game at that time.

    CBS has the first 2 games on Saturday, looking at the schedule, could be okay, unless huge upsets, but if those game are blowouts, people could leave and may not come back.

    • Stholeary

      I think CBS could do very good ratings on Sunday since it’s looking like they’ll get Duke/UNC back to back with no other games going on.

      I know that last year, I spent most of the 2nd round watch March Madness on Demand because I got stuck w/ games I either didn’t care about or weren’t close.

      In fact, the MMOD has been vastly superior to the 1st & 2nd round coverage on CBS for a couple years now.

      Also, isn’t CBS paying a lot less this year for the TV rights?

  • Touchpass

    CBS had to make this deal or they would have lost the Final Four to ESPN. No ifs, ands or buts.

    Now that Turner has basically gotten involved in almost all the major sports properties, has the time come to start up a new sports-oriented channel?

  • Morgan Wick

    It’s several months after the fact, but I feel the need to point out some oversimplifications made in this article and by the comments.

    First, you could say “well, every NBA team is in a top 55 market, so there are no small-market teams,” but that doesn’t mean those in the know will keep listening to you after that point. It’s only natural that professional teams concentrate in the largest, urban markets. In fact, I ran the numbers once and I think half the country’s population lives in the top 25-30 TV markets. As far as sports are concerned, the top five to ten markets are big markets, anything outside the top 18-20 is a small market, and the rest are mid-sized markets.Relatedly, Nielsen markets are smaller than sports markets, especially for those that are particularly large in area; however, they’re the best things we have for approximating sports market size. This is because Nielsen markets are partly determined by how far broadcast television signals reach. Given their market ranks, you would expect Orlando and Sacramento to have more sports teams than they do, but they fall within the orbit of the Tampa Bay and SF Bay Area markets. West Palm Beach ranks high enough on the market list that you would expect it to have at least one or two teams, but I don’t think they even have minor league teams, because it’s really an extension of the Miami market and metro area. Miami ranks behind Tampa in market size, which is about the only place they’re likely to rank behind any other city or metro area in Florida.

    Finally, raw numbers aren’t the only things that matter when it comes to sports. Boston is #7, but with how popular and storied the Celtics and Red Sox are you’d expect them to be at least #4. St. Louis is a mid-sized market, yet the Cardinals are one of the most storied and popular franchises in baseball (though they are still hurting for their market size, as their struggles to keep Albert Pujols show). The Heat had already become a storied franchise with a healthy rivalry with the Knicks even before Shaq and Wade came to town, let alone “The Decision”. Bill Simmons has pointed out that given the choice, basketball players would gravitate to a select few markets, and didn’t list the 76ers but did list the Heat and Suns for the warm climate and, in Miami’s case, lively atmosphere (for lack of a better term).

  • C>E(Chuck) Williams

    Portland should be 2,225,000 . -you need to include Vancouver,USA .
    This would add much to the real fan base !

    • Yuggy

      Ha, Vancouver is so far away from portland. So are you including Seattle too? Detroit should get to include Windsor then.

      • htitzhoff

        Who gets Austin? Because I know as many Mavs fans and Rockets fans as people who watch the Spurs.

        • Alice Soefje

          I think technically Austin is considered part of the Spurs TV market, and they still rank 3rd from the bottom. it is based on geographical location, and Austin is much closer to SA than to Dallas or Houston. The Spurs are not blacked out in Austin which means they are in SA’s tv market.

      • Jeff

        Yuggy, it’s Vancouver, Washington…the fourth largest city in the state of Washington. Learn your geography…

  • Jay

    The Washington DC market is far bigger than that.. You forgot to include Maryland, and Virginia, thats why our region is called the DMV..

  • Skinny

    This is all nonsense and slefabsorbing..This is the answer to a national level but the largest market for the NBA is CHINA!¬† Wake up people do your research…they have the biggest population and spend th emost on buying NBA gear of the top players…KObe number 1 and possibly surpassed¬†by the recent false prophet Lebron James wining a championship

    • Alice Soefje

      But they do not have an NBA team, so they can hardly be an NBA market team no matter the size. And China is a country not a city. The market is determined by the size of the population in a city’s TV market.

    • khmerog

      Yes but China is the number 1 country that makes counterfeit products. So most of those sports jerseys and merchandise are not licensed, therefore the league and teams don’t see a dime out of those sales.

  • khmerog

    I think Big-Market and Small-Market cities should be based on the cities (metro-area) economy and income per capita. Miami (in my opinion) is considered a Big Market because it is a major destination in the USA. Rich people from all over the world owns property there and is considered a “Party City” and only 1 in 10 people there is ugly.. Seattle (needs a team back there), Washington, Denver and obviously Toronto and Vancouver are other examples of what I consider a Big-Market city.

    • Yuggy

      That doesn’t make any sense. It should be based on the number of people who are willing to spend money on sports. (watch, attend, and buy merchandise) Miami struggles to get fans to games unless they’re awesome. So does atlanta. Detroit recently led the NBA in attendance 7 straight years and only went to the Finals twice. Contrary to popular knowledge the pistons do play in one of the wealthier counties in the US, but I dont think that matters. When people call out Detroit as a small market, they’re basically calling Philly, Atlanta and Houston small markets too. they all have a very similar number of sports fans.

      • khmerog

        My apologies I forgot to add Detroit and Houston (duh) and even Dallas as big-market cities. Atlanta is a big-market city too but as a big-market sports city…HELL NO. That’s because appx. 1 out of 3 people in Atlanta are born or raised from outside state. Atlanta has a big “white-collar” working population so most of the out of state people are from NY, NJ, Mass. Even if the Hawks had an interesting team to watch, the arena will always have at least 1/4 of the attendance cheering for the other team.

    • D Hyrum Vaughn

      How is Miami a big market? They’re the 17th largest NBA market. Last I checked that puts them squarely in the bottom half of the league

      • khmerog

        Big market in general as in either city population, wealth, tourism. For example, if they put any sports team in Las Vegas, it would do good in attendance and ticket sales due to all the out of state or out of country visitors. So in my opinion Las Vegas would be a big market city. I consider Miami a big market because of all the rich people that lives or visits there. I am sure every multi-millionaire in the world owns some sort of property in Miami. They may not be loyal sports fan but if the team does good during the season, people will buy tickets and gear and go to the sports bar just to be part of it. OKC has a small population but per capita they are wealthy but lots of old people who are loyal to the team but dont expect parties like Miami. That’s why we all wanted LBJ to stay in Cleveland because he brought income to the declining (declined) city and state.

  • D Hyrum Vaughn

    I don’t understand how the San Antonio market only covers 845,000 people when just in SA alone there are nearly 2 million people. SA is the 8th largest city in the US but the 4th smallest TV market? I call BS.

    • somedude

      845,000. That’s the number of TV sets, not people.

  • Patrick KT

    The way how “TV markets” are calculated seems a bit off. Intuitively, it should be based on the population and economic wealth of a metro area. Metro areas of NY and LA as the top two markets make sense as they’ve both the largest population and largest absolute economic output. After that, Chicago, DC/Baltimore area and the Bay Area are the next largest in terms of population. In terms of absolute GDP output, both the Bay Area and DC/Baltimore area are larger than Chicago. This is not even factoring in satellite areas in orbit (example Sacramento proximity to the Bay Area). So clearly, the five largest markets are NY and LA followed by the next group of Chicago, Bay Area and Baltimore/DC area.