I want to talk about basketball today. Sometime ago, I read a report that TV ratings for college basketball’s regular season were up a meager 1% this year over last year. I find that a bit surprising because college basketball – at least in the DC area – is horribly over-exposed. On some weekends, I can pick and choose from a menu of about 2 dozen college basketball games; I wonder how any of them draw an audience that would earn even the smallest measurable rating let alone an increase of 1% over last year. But that is what the report said and so I take it to be accurate…
In late March, the “overnight ratings” for the first several rounds of the men’s tournament showed much larger gains – 8 or 9% as I recall – and that would seem to support the idea that interest in college basketball was on an uptick this year. Those numbers and those sorts of conclusions do not, however, apply to the NBA. According to this report at sportsmediawatch.com:
“In the first regular season of the nine-year deal, viewership declined for all three major broadcast partners, with TNT and ABC posting their smallest audiences in nine years.”
The total value of the NBA TV deal from all of its “broadcast partners” is $2.66B/ year and $1.4B of that total comes from ESPN which is facing financial difficulties as cable TV loses subscribers and cable companies are not likely to continue to pay ESPN increasing “per subscriber rates”. ESPN has already shed some of its on-air talent and more cuts are rumored to be coming in the next month or two. This is not a good time for the network and this is not a good time for the NBA to be basking in this 9-year TV deal that showed seriously diminished interest in its first year.
I have been saying here for years that the NBA regular season did not begin to get interesting until around March 1st; given the obvious disinterest in regular season games by the players who sat out regular season games with playoff implications or home-court implications, I may have to amend my thinking now to extend my period of meaningless to the entirety of the regular season. What the NBA must hope for is that a large number of potential viewers of regular season games does not adopt my sense of regular season pointlessness.
According to the report linked above, the networks have ways to deal with eroding interest in regular season games because they can air highlights and studio programming in lieu of games. If networks opt to do that, it could erode fan interest even more as the hardcore fan finds it more difficult to find games on TV from November until April. This situation bears watching and the report linked above is worth the time it will take you to read it.
With that as background, it is important to the NBA and its network partners that the playoff ratings improve significantly over the regular season ratings. [Remember, this year was the overall lowest rated season since cable TV became a staple in the US.] In another report from sportsmediawatch.com about the early results from the playoffs:
- The ratings for the Blazers/Warriors opening game (Sunday) were up from last year.
- The ratings for the Thunder/Rockets opening game (Sunday) were up significantly from last year.
- The ratings for the Bulls/Celtics opening game (Saturday) were up significantly from last year.
- The ratings for the Wizards/Hawks opening game (Saturday) was in a time slot that did not have comparable playoff game to measure against. The ratings for this game were a meager 1.8 (the lowest of the opening games by a wide margin) and perhaps the message is that an early game on a Saturday is not a good time to air an NBA early round playoff game.
Obviously, the playoffs have a long way to go – perhaps up to two more months before ending. Nonetheless, the early ratings should be encouraging to the folks who have their money on the line. The trick for everyone will be to carry that interest forward into the next regular season. Good luck with that…
There is one other basketball note for today. Lots of folks have observed and complained that the intentional fouling at the end of basketball games does not add to one’s viewing pleasure and when mixed with all the timeouts that the coaches have hoarded during the game it makes the final 2 minutes seem like a half-hour. Moreover, the team doing the intentional fouling in order to “catch up” usually does so without a positive result. There was an ESPN.com report about a high school principal in Dayton OH, Nick Elam, who has come up with an idea to obviate that tactic. This is real “out-of-the-box thinking”; I like the idea and wish I had thought of it first. Here is how it would work:
“Under Elam’s proposal, the clock would vanish after the first stoppage under the three-minute mark in the NBA and the four-minute mark in NCAA games. Officials would establish a target score by taking the score of the leading team and adding seven points — then restart the game without a clock. The team that reaches that target score first wins.”
Without a clock running there is no need to foul in order to stop the clock. What the trailing team would need to focus on is playing defense to prevent the team in the lead from scoring and getting to the target winning score. There are data and logic behind this proposition and they are well explained in the ESPN.com report here.
Finally, here is a basketball-related comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:
“Who says pro sports aren’t show business?
“Andrew Bogut broke a leg in his Cavaliers debut.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………