NBA Regular-Season Ratings Dipped in 2016-17

ABC, ESPN, and TNT saw NBA viewership decline slightly in the 2016-17 regular season, the first covered under a multi-billion-dollar contract extension between the league and its television partners that reaches through 2024-25.

National NBA telecasts across the three channels and cable network NBA TV averaged 1.19 million total viewers for the season ending on Wednesday — down 6% from the 2015-16 season, but even with the average from 2014-15. Under a new television deal, the three networks combined to broadcast 19 more games than last season.

The addition of more than a dozen and a half games — including 11 Monday-night games on TNT, which did not have a Monday-night telecast in 2015-16 — contributed to the downward tick in viewership. TNT, for example, averaged 1.5 million viewers, down 8% from last season. But when discounting the new Monday-night games, TNT was even with last season’s 1.7 million. (The additional games far outpaced the entertainment programming that TNT aired on comparable Monday nights last season.) Disney-owned ESPN and ABC averaged 1.9 million viewers, down 5% from last season, when they aired eight less games combined.

Increases in streaming viewership also contributed to television decreases. ESPN digital platforms averaged 45,000 viewers per minute, up 18% from 38,000 last season.

The 6% decline across networks was also in line with a general downward trend in live sports viewing, one that was compounded by last year’s presidential election campaign and the subsequent news cycles, which drove eyeballs to cable news programming. Viewership for the NFL, which has become accustomed to regular year-to-year growth, was down 8% in 2016 from the previous season. Network executives have also groused about the impact of NBA teams resting star players in late-season games — and removing the top attractions from telecasts.

Under a new contract that went into effect this season, ESPN, which produces the ABC telecasts, and TNT are paying a combined $2.66 billion per year to broadcast NBA games.

Heading into the playoffs, which begin Saturday, league and network officials can draw encouragement from high ratings for the NBA’s premiere regular-season events, including opening night and All-Star Game telecasts that were the most watched since 2013.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Practical Magic

    'Practical Magic' Prequel Among Three HBO Max Pilot Orders

    HBO Max is continuing to build up its original programming slate with three new projects. Variety has learned that the nascent streamer has given pilot orders to the half-hour dramedy “Generation” and the hour-long drama “Red Bird Lane,” as well as a pilot production commitment for the one-hour drama “Rules of Magic.” All three projects [...]

  • James Corden Variety Cover Story

    James Corden Signs Deal to Host 'Late Late Show' Through 2022

    James Corden has signed a new deal with CBS which will see him stay on as host of “The Late Late Show” through 2022. The multi-talented Brit had been in advanced negotiations with the studio since May, and the new deal is sure to see him score a substantial bump in pay. The previous deal [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon

    Reese Witherspoon, Home Edit Duo Set Lifestyle Series at Netflix

    Netflix has ordered a new lifestyle series that boasts Reese Witherspoon among its executive producers. The hour-long series will follow master home organizes Clea Sherer and Joanna Teplin, the duo behind The Home Edit company. In each episode, Sherer and Teplin will transform the lives of their clients by conquering clutter with their signature style. [...]

  • 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Renewed for Season

    VH1 Renews Two Series in 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Franchise

    “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been renewed for Season 12 at VH1, the cabler announced Monday. Additionally, the “All Stars” version of the show has been renewed for Season 5. RuPaul made the announcement in a video, which you can see below. The flagship series will welcome a fresh group of drag queens eager to prove [...]


    'Fleabag' Star Andrew Scott Joins 'His Dark Materials' at HBO

    Andrew Scott, known to many as the “hot priest” from season 2 of “Fleabag,” has joined the cast of the “His Dark Materials” adaptation at HBO. The announcement was made via a tweet on the series’ official Twitter account which shows Scott on set with Lin Manuel Miranda, who is set to play Lee Scoresby [...]

  • Stephen Amell Arrow Season 5

    'Arrow' Star Stephen Amell to Lead Starz Wrestling Drama 'Heels'

    Stephen Amell has set his first major post-“Arrow” role. The actor, who will make his final outing as the bow-wielding super hero this season, has been cast as the lead in a wrestling drama series entitled “Heels,” which has been handed an eight-episode order by Starz. The hour-long drama is set in a close-knit Georgia [...]

  • Curiosity Stream Altice

    Altice USA Pacts With John Hendricks' CuriosityStream Service

    Altice USA has set a deal with John Hendricks’ CuriosityStream to expand distribution of the science- and history-focused subscription streaming service. The deal will make CuriosityStream available to all Altice USA’s 4.9 million customers across 21 states, including a big cluster serving New York and Connecticut. Altice also plans to add the CuriosityStream app to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content