Adult males flock to ABC, ESPN, TNT

National TV audiences are flocking back to the NBA, led by double-digit gains in all the adult-male demographics on ABC, ESPN and TNT.

ESPN, which has earned season-to-date biggest bragging rights, is averaging 1.46 million total viewers for 53 games, a 12% jump over those watching for the same period for 2006-07. The network’s three most important demos are up dramatically: Up by 44% in men 18 to 34, by 32% in M18-49 and by 28% in M25-54.

“It’s the wild, wild West,” said David Levy, president of Turner Sports, referring to one of the tightest races in the history of the Western Conference. Nine teams are jammed up within six games of one another as the National Basketball Assn. season rolls into its final six weeks before the playoffs.

Ed Desser, head of Desser Sports Media and a former top official in the NBA, said, “The competition is wide open. There are no prohibitive favorites,” which will keep fans biting their nails until the season ends in mid-April.

A collection of factors is driving the revitalization of the league among television viewers:

  • the resurgence of big-market teams including the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics;

  • a flexible schedule that allows ABC and ESPN to switch to games involving playoff-bound teams;

  • and the good will generated by having the Feb. 17 all-star game in New Orleans.

“From a public-relations and community-relations standpoint, the NBA gave a real boost to New Orleans and defused the negative publicity that came out of last year’s All-Star game in Las Vegas,” said David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute at USC.

“A lot of people went to New Orleans for the game who wouldn’t have visited the city otherwise,” Desser said, noting all those he talked to were impressed at the city’s comeback.

And don’t rule out the influence of the 100-day writers strike, Desser said. The reruns that the networks were forced to schedule when they ran out of originals, he noted, “lowered the ratings of the competition,” which boosted the Nielsen numbers for the exclusive primetime doubleheader on TNT every Thursday and the non-exclusive primetime games on ESPN (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday).

For nine broadcasts to date on Sunday afternoon, ABC is up by 11% in total viewers, by 15% in both M18-34 and M18-49, and by 21% in M25-54.

TNT’s gain is a solid 5% among total viewers for 40 games, but the increases are double digit the rest of the way: up by 22% in M18-34, by 16% in M18-49 and by 15% in M25-54.

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