NBA TV ratings soar early in 2020-21, numbers that will define the season

By Vincent Frank
Aug 1, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; The NBA Whole New Game logo is seen before the start of a game between the LA Clippers and the New Orleans Pelicans at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 01, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

NBA TV ratings were the talk of the league’s restart at Walt Disney World in Orlando last season. The backdrop here was widespread national anthem protests in the bubble and teams boycotting games following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Some fans were turned off from the politics of it all during what had been a trying 2020 calendar year around the United States due to the global pandemic and racial angst domestically. It led to a downtick in NBA ratings, with these two things acting as major components.

Now through the first week-plus of the truncated 2020-21 season, things have changed dramatically from an NBA TV ratings perspective.

Related: NFL TV ratings and what they mean

NBA TV rating soar early in 2020-21 season

NBA TV Ratings
Dec 22, 2020; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Golden State Warriors shooting guard Kent Bazemore (26) fights for a loose ball against Brooklyn Nets small forward Kevin Durant (7) and point guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY, numbers are up dramatically from the start of the 2019-20 NBA season.

“TV ratings on ESPN, ABC and TNT were up 67% over last year’s opening week, which was October 22-25, and averaged minutes watched on League Pass Dec. 22-25 increased 67% compared to last season’s opening week,” the report read.

It must be noted that the 2020-21 NBA season started two months later due to the COVID-19 pandemic prolonging the 2019-20 campaign. Even then, these are some remarkable numbers for commissioner Adam Silver and Co.

  • The TNT opening night games between the Warriors-Nets and Clippers-Lakers represented the most-watched opening doubleheader from an NBA TV ratings perspective since 2017.
  • The huge slate of Christmas Day games averaged 2.83 million viewers, up 10% from a season ago. In terms of NBA TV ratings, the Pelicans and Heat game on ESPN represented the holiday’s most-watched cable broadcast. All said, the opening week of 2020-21 NBA action represented the most-watched slate of action since all the way back in 2011.

Related: NBA TV schedule

NBA TV ratings: A theme or an exception to the rule

NBA TV ratings: Celtics star Jayson Tatum beats Bucks
Dec 23, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0), guard Jeff Teague (55), and guard Jaylen Brown (7) celebrate after making a basket against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Media Watch notes that last Wednesday’s dramatic Celtics win over the Bucks saw two million viewers on TNT, up 17% from the second day of the 2019-20 NBA season. However, the Mavericks-Suns game later in the night was down in terms of NBA TV ratings by 10% from a season ago.

Obviously, we’re too early in the campaign to draw any realistic conclusions as it relates to ratings around the Association. We’re going to need a ton more date to compare.

There’s outliers when it comes to NBA TV viewership this season. Rather than starting in October against the MLB Playoffs, there’s not a whole lot going on when it comes to midweek sports action. That obviously plays a role here.

It must also be noted that NBA TV ratings toward the end of last season lagged big time compared to the NFL. Don’t expect that to change with the Association going up against the NFL Playoffs during the weekend come January.

Even then, there’s a lot to like here for Adam Silver and Co. Perhaps, fans are more interested now that games are being played in home markets rather than the Orlando bubble. While a vast majority of teams are not hosting fans, it could lead to more interest from a local perspective.

The 2020 presidential election cycle is also over. It was in full swing as the Association finished up its 2019-20 season. With that came a lot of divisiveness throughout the United States. Another thing to look at here is the growing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic around the country and the fact that Americans are going to be huddled at home during the winter until the vaccines become widely available to the mainstream public.

As it is, NBA TV ratings represent a story to watch unfold as the truncated 72-game schedule continues.

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