NBA Midseason Update: ESPN, TNT Flat; ABC Down Double-Digits


Despite several big market teams hampered by injury, NBA viewership remained stable on ESPN and TNT during the first half of the season.

ESPN averaged a 1.2 U.S. rating and 1.8 million viewers for NBA regular season coverage during the first half of the season, flat in viewership compared to last year. Meanwhile, TNT averaged 2.0 million viewers — also even with last year, which finished as the third-most viewed ever on Turner Sports.

The same cannot be said for ABC. The network averaged approximately a 2.7 rating and 4.5 million viewers through six telecasts, down 29% and 31%, respectively, from the comparable period last year (3.8, 6.5M).

Last Sunday, ABC earned a 2.0 final rating and 3.1 million viewers for the Bulls/Lakers game — down 51% in ratings and 53% in viewership from Lakers/Heat last year (4.1, 6.5M), and down 23% and 25%, respectively, from Bulls/Celtics in 2012 (2.6, 4.1M). The early Knicks/Thunder game had a 1.9 and 3.1 million, down 10% in ratings and 19% in viewership from Clippers/Knicks last year (2.1, 3.3M).

Declines have been the rule during the first half of the season. Of the 72 regular season games on ESPN, ABC and TNT that can be compared to last year, 42 had declines and 29 had increases.

The Winter Olympics has exacerbated the situation. Seven of the eight NBA games to air opposite Sochi had double-digit declines, with five of the games declining by at least a third: Blazers/Pacers on February 7 (-33%), Thunder/Lakers on Thursday (-34%), Spurs/Nets on February 6 (-47%), Bulls/Lakers last Sunday, and Nets/Bulls on Thursday (-56%).

The top draw of the first half was the Christmas Day Heat/Lakers game on ABC, which despite an 18% decline in viewership still earned 7.8 million viewers. The Heat also played in the season’s top game on TNT (Bulls/Heat on Opening Night, 5.4M) and ESPN (Thunder/Heat on 1/29, 3.9M).

Most-Viewed NBA Games Thru First Half

(First half averages from ESPN, Turner Sports)

  • TasUv

    NBA fans are weird.

    All season they complain about BIG markets being favorited on TV, and complain about LeBron James being shown on TV way too often.

    Then ESPN gives them Pacers vs. Blazers, exciting game… and nobody watches. And when you look at the most watched game of the year… what you know…

    Lakers vs Heat.

    This Lakers team is horrendous, and still brought in 8 million viewers… and yet you ignored Blazers v. Clippers… shame on NBA fans. Shame on you.

    • Paulsen

      Timeslots have something to do with it, but you’re correct.

    • David Person

      Those NBA fans who hate the unexpected ascension of the Portland Trailblazers are not real NBA fans. Those who dislike the grit of the Phoneix Suns or the fight of the Memphis Grizzles do not like NBA basketball. What gets me are these gas bags on TV who talk about how the NBA is in a bad place and the only reason they are saying that is because ALL of the big market teams are injured or struggling.

    • bignasty96

      NBA is all about stars. And the Blazers/Pacers/etc. don’t have stars the fans have been trained to care about.

      That’s why the David Stern model of focusing on one guy is so hit or miss. If LeBron makes the Finals, it’s all good. If the Pacers do, the ratings plummet.

      That’s why the NFL has been so successful. It is almost never about the stars (except in rare cases like Peyton, Tebow in 2011) and all about the teams. It doesn’t matter what teams make the playoffs, the ratings are still there…the stars just boost them up.

      The NBA is a lot like boxing. If Mayweather is fighting, it’s a big deal. If he’s not, then it’s not. NBA right now is LeBron…and that’s it to about 75% of casual sports fans.

      • JakeFrankie

        You know the NFL is once a week? Also NFL never dealt with the hatered of the media for years like the NBA did. Also NFL is more a circus than a sport, People watch the Superbowl for commericals. I love when people compare the NFL model to other sports ahhah. NFL is America’s Sport, It’s also a sport where it takes 4 hours to get 60 mins of action done.
        Please don’t compare a sporting leauge to a circus that is the NFL.