Thursday, December 4

The Rest of the Story

Last Tuesday (Nov. 25), I ran a piece about the NBA’s television ratings, wherein I questioned the merits of the previously linked Nielsen story which raved about improved NBA ratings.

My quibble was in regard to the way in which the data was presented. Rather than list all the teams’ ratings, it only listed the top ten, a completely flawed methodology. As I argued last week, how can you say the league’s ratings are improved when you only tell us half of the story?

Well, consider this the other half of the story.

Thanks to an anonymous commenter with access to local Nielsen ratings, here is the whole enchilada. Listed are the teams, and the percentage change in their ratings relative to last season. Note that these ratings are only for local broadcasts, and do not include ESPN, TNT, ABC, or whomever.

Hornets, 163%
Cavs, 105%
Hawks, 93%
Blazers, 44%
Sixers, 14%
Wizards, 11%
Grizzlies, 10%
Knicks, 10%
Lakers, 9%
T-Wolves, 6%
Pistons, 5%
Bulls, 1%

Nets, 0%

Rockets, -8%
Warriors, -15%
Celtics, -18%
Nuggets, -22%
Pacers, -23%
Magic, -24%
Bucks, -24%
Heat, -24%
Spurs, -26%
Suns, -38%
Mavericks, -54%
Clippers, -60%

Missing: OKC, Charlotte, Sacramento, Toronto, Jazz

Let’s assume Oklahoma City’s ratings are better than the Sonics’ (for the sake of Clay Bennett’s mental health, they better be). And, let’s assume the Raptors and Jazz are also doing decently. I think we can also assume that the Hornets and Kings are seeing lower numbers than before, simply because that’s what their attendance figures would indicate.

Regardless of the missing numbers, that’s a pretty whopping indictment of how popular the league is. The argument that attendance is down but ratings are up? Hogwash.

There are four teams with an increase of 20 points or more, but there are nine with decreases of 20 points or more (if you include the missing five teams, the numbers might change to five increases and ten or eleven decreases). The Boston Celtics – World Champs, etc, etc, - have seen an 18% decline in their ratings. The Mavericks are looking at a drop of nearly half from last season.

Now, there are rebuttals to this argument. For one thing, the season is still early and the NBA will obviously do better after the NFL and college football are in the rear-view mirror. Plus, the really meaningful games (and concurrent improved ratings) don’t occur until the spring.

Still, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who argues that the NBA is sailing along just fine, thank you, is burying his head in the sand.

Let’s face it, folks, if your best argument is that you’re more popular than the NHL, well, that’s not much of an argument.

19 comments:

chunkstyle23 said...

And if the ratings are the true bellwether, then why the HELL does any team need a cutting edge arena?! Every NBA game could be played at a high school gymnasium equipped with 360 TV cameras.

Crow said...

What's shocking is how many playoff teams including top playoff level teams are on that bottom list and how big the dropoffs are. Now the early season aspect you mention may be a big part of the story since it is a football dominated sports scene but this looks like a pretty big story.

ryan said...

Eerily reminiscent of the way people talked about the real estate market.

Stage 1: The market will never go down! Get in while you can!
Stage 2: Sure, some of the suburban home prices are falling, but that's just a hiccup. It's a great time to buy!
Stage 3: Sure that condo development on 23rd St. has been sitting half-completed since last year, but that's just an isolated incident. Just wait until the spring, it'll be much better then!There's nothing wrong!
Stage 4: Hi, I'm calling from Manny's Reposessions ...

stumpy said...

These numbers are pretty fishy. For one thing, it seems clear that these are two different types of numbers (the commenter gives you cable numbers and nielsen at least gives you a share, which should include all viewers) and you cherry-picked numbers that prove your point that the NBA is declining in popularity, like the Orlando number.

nuss said...

I don't know that I cherry picked any numbers - I used what I was given and listed them all. From what I understand, his numbers were more recent than the Nielsen.com numbers I was provided before. Anyone would agree that the most recent numbers should be the ones we should use, right?

Hey, I agree, this is not a definitive study. However, these are the only numbers we have, and these numbers indicate that - taken as a whole - the NBA ratings for the majority of the teams are down from last season. Until someone gives me proof that I'm wrong, that's the evidence.

antonymous said...

It's not that the "numbers are fishy", it's the fact that you're comparing percentage changes (mistake #1) for one year (mistake #2) between markets that are not even close to comparable (mistake #3). This is not evidence that viewership is down at all - it could be, but the data isn't here.

Two of the largest markets (Knicks and Lakers) are up. This *could* offset (from a "total viewership" standpoint) the fact that a few smaller markets (Bucks, Pacers) are down, and also offset the fact that some teams can't keep up with viewership spikes from last year (Celtics, probably Suns).

You really can't extrapolate much from this limited dataset, sorry.

Kevin Pelton said...

The issue here is the numbers don't show that viewership is down. Setting aside the market-size issue, which I think is relatively trivial when we're taking this kind of league-wide snapshot, the average of the numbers *is* positive. It's +5.4 percent.

To offset that and get even to no change, the four missing teams (throwing out OKC, since that's an unfair comparison) would have to average a loss of 33.8 percent of their viewership, which I don't think is realistic.

12 teams are up; 12 are down. And keep in mind that, in percentage terms, an 105 percent increase like Cleveland has apparently experienced is enormous. The equivalent drop-off would be a team having negative viewership, and not even the Grizzlies can pull that off.

The numbers are fine, but Nuss, my friend, in this case they simply don't match your analysis.

Kevin Pelton said...

Oops, I guess the Grizzlies are up this year. Change that joke to the Bobcats.

nuss said...

Actually, I disagree. Allow me to explain:

If I understand Kevin and 'antonymous' correctly, you're saying that the Cavs' increase of 105% offsets five teams decreasing by 20%, since 105 > 20+20+20+20+20.

Well, I would argue that is not entirely correct. Let's say you are the owner of the Miami Heat. How does the Cavs' increase of 105% help your bottom line? You could argue that by revenue-sharing, it will eventually trickle into his pocket, but that's not really an equivalent compensation, right?

To take that argument to its logical extreme, if one team in the league, say, the Lakers, had a 500% increase, while all the other teams were in negative territory, but not so negative that they exceeded 500%, would it be accurate to say the league, taken as a whole, was healthy? The other 29 teams would be struggling to make payroll if that was the case. If this was the NFL and teams shared equally in television revenue, obviously, it wouldn't make any difference, but this is the NBA, and they don't, at least not to the degree the NFL does. [If I'm off-base and the NBA does share all local tv revenues equally, then, obviously, I'll take that back.]

I see the point that using percentages to determine the league's overall health is not entirely wise, and if my story made people think that I was claiming the league was falling apart, then some of the fault lies on my shoulders. I was, however, trying to make the point that despite the claims of some that the league is doing great and that ratings are up that, in fact, ratings are not up, they are down for at least half of the teams. Make sense?

Also, I'm glad to see people using coherent arguments to prove I'm an idiot. Much improved over the "go back to Canada, you frickin' hockey-lover" of a few days ago.

Anonymous said...

Are you guys planning to keep at it the entire season, posting daily articles about attendance and tv ratings? I hope not cuz it would mean you guya are really bored and have too much time in your hands.

Anyways, something is weird here. I thought Celtics' ratings were up compared to last year, not to mention that this article says that Celtics/Hawks in November got a Red Sox-like rating.

http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/news/article.asp?docKey=600-200811200143KRTRIB__BUSNEWS_11468-18J3U5IANTPHIFCON52IOLKFF2&params=timestamp||11/20/2008%201:43%20AM%20ET||headline||Celtics%27%20TV%20audience%20takes%20big%20bounce%20[Boston%20Herald]||docSource||Knight%20Ridder/Tribune||provider||ACQUIREMEDIA&symbol=NWS


anyways, even if some teams are getting lower ratings than last year, they are still getting HUGE ratings, no matter what. Take the Spurs, for instance. Their ratings may be down, but they are still enourmous and San Antonio is the highest-rated market in the league. So, ratings for some of those teams may be down, but they are still huge, so I don't see how it could be a negative thing.

And, most importantly, do you guys realize that you are comparing tv ratings (and attendance, for that matter) of the ENTIRE 2007-08 season with the ratings of the FIRST month of the 2008-09 season. Interest in November is still not at the highest level, so you should wait at least the end of football season before making comparisons. If I'm not mistaken, attendance and tv ratings after the first month of the 2007-08 season were lower than the 2006-07 season and the same goes with the previous season. So you get my point.

nuss said...

I hear you - but I thought it might be interesting to use it as a gauge to compare during the course of the season. If this trend continues, well, it means something. If it doesn't, then it's meaningless.

ryan said...

To play devil's advocate, the yin to improved ratings during the stretch run for playoff teams would be the yang of teams that are out of the playoffs. I can't imagine the ratings are too great in March and April for teams with 25 wins. At this point in the season, everyone's still got a chance.

Except the Thunder! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!!

Kevin Pelton said...

As a measure of league-wide interest, I would argue that the average is more important than the team-by-team detail. While your perspective is valid, and there are arguments either way, from a literal standpoint the numbers are up.

Anonymous said...

how in the world Magic ratings are down 24%? The Nielsen article says that Magic ratings are up 26%..plus, how could they be down when the Magic are putting on a great product and are one of the best teams in the NBA?

"In Orlando, Dwight Howard and the Magic are atop their division, and are also enjoying a 26% boost in viewership compared to last season".

nuss said...

Keep in mind that those two views of the ratings were taken at different times; when they were up 26% it was only a few games into the season, while now it's about 1 month or so... a few weird ratings (say, if the game was on a Sunday night against a Bucs game), it would swing the ratings dramatically. We'll see where it goes as the season goes on.

As always, the more information the better.

Anonymous said...

in order to extrapolate these to the entire league, you could weight the ratings change by market size.

Ken said...

The Charlotte team is the Bobcats. The Hornets are in New Orleans, and the Hornets' ratings are up 163%.

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