The re-start of the National Basketball Association’s season late last summer after the pandemic put it on what seemed like an interminable pause may have been lackluster in terms of numbers, but that was then, and this is 2021. NBA ratings aren’t in “big trouble” like one former sitting president may have led you to believe.
Through this past Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 18), NBA viewership for 27 games broadcast across TNT, ESPN and ABC were up 34% versus the comparable number of games last season. According to Nielsen Media Research, that amounts to 2.0 million average viewers versus 1.49 million average viewers for the 2019-20 season. Additionally, the NBA’s social media platforms have generated record engagement season-to-date, with a 201% increase in minutes watched versus last year.
The comparison isn’t exact. Due to the pandemic, the current NBA season, which was shortened, began in December after the previous season’s end was pushed into fall. The first 27 national TV games of last season aired Oct. 22-Nov. 20 of 2019.
But TNT’s MLK Day Tripleheader coverage, which kicked off at 5 p.m. ET with the Phoenix Suns versus Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks versus Brooklyn Nets at 7:30 p.m., and concluded at 10 p.m. with the Golden State Warriors going head to head with the Los Angeles Lakers, saw a substantial increase in viewership compared to the network’s MLK Day coverage last season— an average of 1.73 million viewers, up 32%. The Warriors versus Lakers game alone was up a whopping 90% in comparison to last year’s same telecast timeslot.
Throughout MLK Day, viewership on NBA League Pass, the league’s live game subscription package, delivered a strong increase in average regular-season viewership stats, increasing 18% in minutes watched compared to last season’s coverage on the platform.
Though the return of the NBA’s 2019-20 season started off slightly shaky, not necessarily hitting the heights of an average regular season without interruption hiccups or scheduling anomalies, the NBA’s 2020-21 opener during the Dec. 22-25 stretch was the most-watched since 2012. The league’s telecasts across TNT, ESPN and TBS were up 67% compared to 2019’s October opening week. And, if you exclude Christmas from last year, viewership for the first 24 games on ESPN and TNT were up 8% versus the same amount of games last season, per Nielsen data.