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).