Prior to the beginning of the 2011-12 season, many pundits thought some fans would abandon the NBA in the wake of the lockout, and the league would have some ratings struggles. Well, that hasn't happened. Four markets have more than doubled their local ratings (Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, LA Clippers) according to a Sports Business Daily report and national ratings are also up, from 10% to ABC games to 52% for NBA TV games.
One particular reason for the NBA's ratings boost resides in New York, with Jeremy Lin driving Knicks numbers through the roof. The two highest rated non-playoff games on the network actually came this month, with Lin and the Knicks taking on the pathetic Hornets on February 17th, and the local rival (but equally as pathetic) Nets on February 20th. Linsanity has taken the Knicks' ratings somewhere where Patrick Ewing, John Starks, and Carmelo Anthony never could during their time in the Big Apple. The first 27 games on MSG, comparing this year to last season, were up by 82%. And when you consider that MSG and Time Warner had an issue with providing content for a good chunk of the season, those numbers are even more impressive.
Some teams however, are down overall. The biggest loser is the Rockets, whose local ratings have dropped by 40.5% in the wake of another season without a superstar. But the Rockets are playing great basketball, and are currently the fourth seed in the West. The cross-state Spurs, currently the second seed in the West, are also down (by 17.5%), but still enjoy the highest average rating at 7.94
Looking at the percentages is a little misleading, and you should at least take a glance at the total average viewers per game. While the Rockets are down 40%, they've only lost 23,000 viewers per game....that doesn't seem exactly huge. You can maybe tie in that drop in viewers with the great Texans seasons that just ended, which encapsulated the Houston sports scene. The Celtics and Lakers also suffered drops in viewers over 10,000, with the Celtics loss of 37,000 viewers per game as the highest mark in the league as the team ages and slips from relevancy in the Eastern Conference. And just like last year, a strong Bruins team probably isn't helping matters for the C's.
But what's really telling is the total amount of viewers in some of the smaller markets of the league. Basketball in Charlotte (round two) just seems to be a failured venture across the board. The Bobcats are 16th in the league in attendance, but more fans are attending their games live (16,000 per) than are watching them on TV (just 13,000). That amazes me. The same is nearly true for the Bucks, who are drawing a shade under 15,000 per game live, but also getting that many viewers at home for their games. The Lakers and Bulls are at the top of the food chain, with over 200,000 local viewers per game, while the Knicks, Heat and Clippers all have over 100,000 viewers per game.
It's also worth noting that the New Jersey Nets really just don't have a lot going on this year, despite acquiring Deron Williams last season. The Nets are 28th in the NBA in attendance, six and a half games out of a playoff spot in the East, and their overall local ratings are the lowest in the NBA at just 0.38, and that's with being on a huge local sports network in the New York Yankees-owned YES. The Nets are moving to Brooklyn soon, and that could help things out a lot... unless they put out another crappy team, in which case, this will turn into a giant money pit for Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z, and the rest of the Nets conglomerate of owners.
However, not all ratings news is great with the NBA. NBA All-Star Weekend ratings are also out, and they are significantly down. Compared to last year's marks for the All-Star Game, the 4.4 rating and 7.070 million viewers are down by 15% and 22% respectively in comparison to the 2011 game, but up from 2010. The 2012 game is tied for the fourth-lowest viewership of all-time. Eight of the ten All-Star Games aired on TNT have been down in both ratings and viewers from the previous year. That's not a good trend.
As for All-Star Saturday, that drew a 3.6 and 6.237 million viewers, down 18% and 23% from 2011. However, those numbers are the third best of all-time for the Saturday. What's this telling us? Despite fans seemingly hating the Saturday events (especially the Dunk Contest, which has been criticized for being unoriginal, lacking star players, and past its prime), it's the actual game that's taking the biggest hit overall. I find it odd that with local ratings up in so many markets, and national ratings also being up, that the ratings for the All-Star Weekend were so far down. That might say more about the overall state of All-Star games than the NBA, though.