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.