Friday, June 13


Before the Finals started, almost everyone was in agreement that a Boston-LA series would be a ratings bonanza for the NBA.

After all, in addition to the nostalgia factor, you've LA involved, not to mention Boston, which is a heckuva better proposition than, oh, San Antonio and Cleveland, right?

So I was a little surprised to see the ratings for the series so far. Now, these are just for the first three games (game four ratings aren't available yet to non-insiders such as myself), but take a look:

Game 1: 8.7
Game 2: 8.5
Game 3: 9.2

Now, bear in mind that these are overnight ratings, which are almost always higher than the official ratings which will come out later.

The chart shows how the ratings have gone since David Stern took over the league in 1984. And, while this year's numbers are obviously higher than last year's (and when you add in game 4 and game 5, they'll higher still), it's not much of an improvement in the grand scheme of things.

In fact, if you were a pessimist, wouldn't you be disappointed with these ratings? Considering the hoopla surrounding the matchup, wouldn't you expect this year's series to do at least as well as the the 2004 Lakers-Pistons series? Well, thus far, the ratings are below that series, and I'd label that as disappointing. When you factor in that these are overnight ratings, I would say it's even more disappointing.

So, while the media continues to parrot David Stern's company line about improved ratings, it's a faulty argument. Yes, ratings are up over last year, but considering that last year's series was the lowest-rated in modern NBA history, wouldn't you expect that? For a league so full of bad news as the NBA, this is the best week of the entire year, the time when all of its sins are washed away by the goodwill generated by a Laker-Celtic final.

Next week, the Finals will be over, and Stern will be forced to endure an unending series of questions about the Sonics and Tim Donaghy. I hope an 8.5 rating is enough to comfort him.


Eric Reynolds said...

Last night I was watching the game and the missus walked in the room as ABC cut to a clip of Stern's smiling denials about the Donaghy scandal. She said, "Who's that guy? He looks crooked." 'Nuff Said!

Anonymous said...

Game 1: 8.7
Game 2: 8.5
Game 3: 9.2

Now, bear in mind that these are overnight ratings, which are almost always higher than the official ratings which will come out later.

^ no, those are the final ratings. Every game so far had a double-digit overnight rating (game 3 was the game with the highest overnight rating: 10.7 or 10.8, I don't remember exactly).

But I find this comparison a little bit unfair. While I agree ratings are a bit disappointing, those are still huge ratings. Just think that ABC is getting some of the highest primetime ratings in years and NBA Finals games are helping ABC to win the primetime (the Finals are, by far, the most watched program of the night).

Not to mention that countless people (I do the same at times) watch the games on the internet and ratings don't even take in consideration those millions of people who watch games in bars, restaurants etc.

And let's not even get me started with all those people who watch NBA Finals-related videos on youtube, myspace and facebook (the NBA is setting record hits on those sites).

Oh and ratings for the entire playoffs have been huge this year. ESPN and TNT got some of the biggest ratings in years and the top 10 most watched programs on cable last May were NBA playoffs games. And the Pistons/Celtics series was the most watched conference final series in ESPN history.

Matt said...

Looks like the league never recovered from the lockout, after being on an upswing prior. Can we get the BALCO guys to come in and fix things?

Anonymous said...

The NBA is never going to return to its previous ratings heights. I don't really fret about it, and neither will Stern. The big issue is not in national TV ratings but in international audiences (where Stern has grown the game) and jersey/merchandise sales.

Boston and LA in the Finals allows for massive sales of recognizable stars and the two most high profile teams, which helps Stern to fill the bottom line he desires.

Anonymous said...

This entry does not take into account what times the games were all the other years. If they were being shown at non-primetime slots, they may have had higher 'ratings' but still have fewer overall viewers. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples in this kind of analysis.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't the ratings be scaled to what the highest rated shows of the era are? People have significantly more options today than they did, even 5 years ago. If you did a chart showing the rating of the most watched show in television, it would look similar to this.

Anonymous said...

could this dip be because the NBA is scheduling sunday games to START AT 9:00 P.M.??? the scheduling of the finals the year has been a massive joke, and I long for the days of the NBA on NBC.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. People don't watch TV like they used to. There are so many other avenues of entertainment and media now-a-days to compare ot it 1995 would be illogical. A better story I think is to explore how MLB claims they are generating the best revenue/sales ever yet every time I watch sports center all I see are empty stadiums. Explain that to me. For those readers coming from TrueHoop (like me) don't be fooled by this article. Seems like a bitter Sonic's fan (I don't blame him) trying to claw just a little at the worlds best sport.

Anonymous said...

I find all the people picking apart this article pretty funny. Basically, they are saying that the ratings as they are listed here (in historical measures) are not important...but all the other ways...Cable Ratings, as Compared to other options, since they are in prime time...are important.

Lets take a look at these arguments:

1) Cable Ratings: Are people really going to say something like the Pistons/Celtics was the highest rated series in ESPN history when ESPN has televised the Conference Finals only 5 or 6 years? Is that really saying much? Especially considering these were the two best teams in the two (of the three) biggest NBA markets from the Eastern Conference.

2) Compared to Other Entertainment Options: So this is an argument you think helps make the NBA look better? Ratings are a distinct number of households watching your product. If you have lower ratings that means other people decided they'd rather watch (or do) something else than watch your product. Basically, what this really shows is that the NBA has lost a significant number of their casual fans. This of course makes sense due to all the issues that have surrounded the NBA in the last 5 years.

3) Games in Prime Time: This is just the same argument as the outlined above.

So, for the people who tried to pass this off as some "angry Seattle fan" you need to come up with some actual valid arguments. The fact is simple:


David Stern can try and spin this by saying that ratings are up (as the author pointed out: big surprise over the least watched Finals ever). However, if you do not find this downward trend disturbing you are essentially admitting that Ratings are no longer important and therefore should never be used to judge the popularity of a sports league. Are you willing to make this argument?

Anonymous said...

The ratings story is complex. It is not the simple slam dunk, great story that the comparison to last season that the NBA made in the media made it seem but as stated above there are some counterarguments to the counter story too.

Clearly though the NBA is not like pro or college football. I haven't seen the side by side to NCAA basketball but I'd guess the NBA is not dominant.The NBA is alright as is but slippage remains a threat. Ticket sales were down a couple % this past season. Will have to see if that trend continues.

Online ZenDoc said...

How can I get the .eps (? I think that's what FastSigns said?) file (Vector File) for the S.O.S. logo from Rafael? I have had no response from S.O.S. leadership for 2 days now and if I can't get it in the next hour, it won't be on the big banner for the rally. You can call me at 253-267-2975. Thanks. - ZenDoc

Anonymous said...

In my defense: If I had presented this article as an argument that "The NBA is not as popular as it ways 15 years ago" then I would clearly be treading on thin logical ice. As pointed out numerous times above, the viewing environment today is vastly different than even 10 years ago, let alone two decades. All ratings is all areas (other than the Super Bowl), are off because of the vast outlets of viewing pleasure available to people.

However, how do you explain the fact that this year's series isn't even beating the Laker-Piston series? It seems to me that the only reason the NBA can claim success is by comparing them to the horrible ratings of the SA-DET-NJ-CLE series.

What does that mean? To me, it means that unless the Lakers, Knicks, or Celtics are involved in a championship, the ratings are going to suck. And that can't be a good indication of the league's overall health.

Anonymous said...

How does:

"As pointed out numerous times above, the viewing environment today is vastly different than even 10 years ago, let alone two decades. All ratings is all areas (other than the Super Bowl), are off because of the vast outlets of viewing pleasure available to people."

...not prove that the NBA isn't as popular now as it was 10 years ago? Just because there are more options for entertainment does not make it any better that the ratings are down.

The ratings still show that less people are choosing the NBA to be their entertainment option of choice. That is all that matters. It doesn't matter if some of those people are watching WWE and some of the other people are watching Food Network...all that matters in this argument is that they aren't choosing to watch the NBA.

Combine this with the fact that the NBA Attendance was down in many cities and I think it is pretty obvious that the NBA is starting to lose the casual fan. We have this situation in Seattle where the owner is stealing the team AND saying that it is OK because no one cares about the team. This is an interesting argument for many reasons...but one of the most interesting parts is the fact that the Sonics didn't even have the worst attendance in the league last year. So if Seattle is so bad they don't deserve a team...what does that say about Indiana (almost a playoff team) and Memphis?

Anonymous said...

Nuss, I would like to say, that the reason the ratings suck is simple: Unless you're a C's or Lakes fan, there isn't much compelling reasons to watch. I'm not really watching, very often, and I don't care if I miss it. In the 80's people cared if they missed games, because there was little else on in terms of choice. Now, there are so many options, and so many different kinds of options, that the ratings don't reflect the landscape of real viewership.

I think the biggest problem is that, among other things, Garnett and Bryant don't draw national media feeding frenzy's consistently in terms of viewership ratings, and players like Shaq do. (I don't really understand why, but that is true.)