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NBA Ratings Up Amid General Rise In U.S. Sports Viewership

Written by corres2

Topline

 Viewership of NBA games on ESPN is up 20% so far this season amid a general rise in ratings for sporting events this year.

Key Facts

ESPN is averaging 1.44 million viewers through 12 games so far this season, up from the 2020-21 season’s average of 1.2 million, according to Nielsen data relayed by ESPN Press Room.

Viewership is up across many demographics, including adults ages 18-49 (up 28%) and women (up 26%).

Viewership has also risen for the NBA’s other national broadcasting partner, TNT, with an Oct. 26 game between the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks averaging 1.43 million viewers compared to a Milwaukee Bucks-Miami Heat game from the same point in the season last year, which averaged 837,000, according to Sports Media Watch.

Key Background

Across the board, more Americans are tuning in to watch major U.S. sports. Game 6 of the 2021 MLB World series averaged 14.3 million total viewers (13.9 million viewers from TV only), up from 12.6 million viewers for Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, according to CNBC. The NHL just had its largest opening night cable audience ever, with Oct. 12’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Tampa Bay Lightning game averaging 983,000 viewers. The NFL continues to dominate not just sports, but all of television, with Nov. 1’s Sunday Night Football on NBC earning the highest ratings of any broadcast that week with an average of 14.2 million viewers (Game 6 of the World Series came in second).

Surprising Fact

In an effort to avoid clashing with the dominant NFL’s Thursday Night Football, TNT has shifted its normal weekly NBA broadcast from Thursdays to Tuesdays until January, according to journalist Marc Stein.

Tangent

It is unclear what is driving the increase in NBA viewership, though some say rule changes have made the games more watchable and entertaining. Offensive players can no longer intentionally create contact with an opposing defender using non-basketball actions to draw fouls. “I gotta be honest as someone who loves hoops, some of the whistles on jumpshots, collisions initiated by the offensive player and non basketball acts were making me sick,” Sports Illustrated’s Robin Lundberg wrote. “To see that garbage no longer being called is exhilarating.”




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