With the owners’ lockout forcing ESPN to air NBA games in some less-than-ideal timeslots, viewership for regular season games on the network declined from last year’s record.
ESPN averaged a 1.3 U.S. rating and 1.863 million viewers for regular season NBA games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 regular season, flat in ratings and down 8% in viewership from last season (1.3, 2.025M*), but up 18% and 19%, respectively, from the 2009-10 season (1.1, 1.571M).
Despite the decline, this marks the second-most viewed NBA regular season on ESPN since the network reacquired rights to the league in 2002, behind only last year.
ESPN was the only network to directly suffer due to the owners’ lockout. Because the season was delayed until December 25 and condensed to 66 games per team, ESPN had to add games in some unappealing telecast windows.
Of the ten least-viewed games on ESPN this season, eight were in telecast windows that were added after the lockout — including four Saturday games, three games that aired opposite the NCAA Tournament, and a Monday night game on ESPN2.
The top game of the season on ESPN was Heat/Thunder on March 25 (3.517M), no small feat considering that was the same day as the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
Seven of the top ten games on ESPN this season either involved the Miami Heat or had a Heat game as a lead-in.
ESPN was the only NBA broadcast partner to suffer a decline in viewership this season. ABC had an increase of 10% in ratings and 6% in viewership, TNT had an increase of 6% in ratings and 2% in viewership, and NBA TV had an increase of 35% in ratings and 33% in viewership.
* 2010-11 average does not include the final night of the regular season.
(Season average from ESPN)