NBA Sets Earlier Start Times for TV Doubleheaders

The National Basketball Association wants to cut down on cases of post-midnight dribbling.

The league and its two national TV partners, ESPN and WarnerMedia, have struck a new arrangement for many of the times the two media companies televise doubleheaders, according to people familiar with the matter. In an effort to offer fans a wider variety of teams and to get East Coast viewers to be before 1 a.m., the league is cutting the number of late doubleheaders shown by ESPN and TNT by 42%, these people said, cutting the total shown to 33 in the 2019-2020 season, compared with in 2018-2019,

This season, 12 of TNT’s 31 doubleheaders and 22 of ESPN’s will tip off 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. eastern or at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. eastern rather than at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. eastern, these people said. The majority of TNT’s Thursday-night broadcasts are not likely to be affected.

The moves show sports leagues continuing to refine game play to please TV audiences. The National Football League has over the past few seasons worked to remove some commercial breaks from NFL broadcasts on Fox and other outlets. At a time when more fans are able to call up stats and video clips on their smartphones and desktop computers, reworking the flow of game broadcasts has taken on a new level of importance.

The NBA made the new move realizing East Coast fans were being made to watch games that stretched into the wee hours of the morning and that only a handful of teams could be broadcast in games that started at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

ESPN and WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports were in favor of the move, according to people familiar with the matter. Many of the game’s  biggest starts and most popular teams are based on the West Coast, while most U.S. TV households are in the east – along with a good percentage of NBA fans.

“Each season we work in close concert with the NBA on the ESPN/ABC schedule with an eye toward maximizing audience and best serving NBA fans.  The effort around an earlier start time for Wednesday night games this season is a great example of the collaboration,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and acquisitions, in a statement. ” We are anxious to see the results, as we believe this will be an incredibly competitive NBA season full of compelling storylines.”

The bump-up means the number of 10:30 p.m. games featuring the Golden State Warriors falls to 11 from 18, while the number of 10:30 p.m. games featuring the Los Angeles Lakers tumbles to 10 from 19.

The NBA’s 74th season is set to start on Tuesday, October 22, and end on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The regular season will consist of 1,230 games.


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