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NBA Courting Viewers Despite Lockout

1/30/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

National Basketball Association Fans
welcomed the league back with open arms during the first
month of the NBA’s truncated season as ESPN, TNT and
NBA TV drew strong ratings returns for their live game
coverage.

Concerns that the league’s 149-day lockout would sour
fans on tuning into regular-season games were unfounded
as cable networks posted double-digit increases for
NBA telecasts during the first month of the league’s shortened
66-game schedule. Th e performances were led by
TNT, which averaged 3.1 million viewers to date for its 13-
game slate, which began with a Boston Celtics-New York
Knicks Christmas Day season-opening telecast. That’s up
a whopping 67% versus the same period in 2010-11, and
well above the 2.5 million viewers generated for its network
record-setting 2010-11 NBA season, according to network
officials.

Not to be outdone, NBA TV drew 374,000 viewers for 28
game telecasts for the period of Dec. 26 to Jan. 24, a 63%
increase over the network’s 2011 season performance.
(Nielsen began rating NBA TV on Jan. 1, 2011).

Christina Miller, general manager of NBA TV, said she’s
not surprised at the early ratings performance of NBA
games on the channel. Its strong ratings start included a
network-high 756,000 viewers for its Jan. 14 Los Angeles
Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers contest, erasing the previous
high of 772,000 viewers for a Chicago Bulls-Los Angeles
Clippers contest two weeks earlier on Dec. 30.

“We always believed in the long-term strength of the
NBA, and I think there is a strong, deep aff ection for the
league among fans, and as long as [the league] is delivering
performances night after night, I think the fans
will reward that by showing up and tuning in,” she said.
“From the fi rst shot on Christmas Day, I think it’s been
a great season, with the emergence of young teams like
the [Minnesota] Timberwolves with Ricky Rubio and Kevin
Love, the Los Angeles Clippers with Blake Griffi n, and
Oklahoma City, as well as the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics.”

ESPN’s vice president of programming Leah LaPlaca
said the league’s condensed schedule, in which teams
can play as many as three games over consecutive days,
has also contributed to the increase in the network’s NBA
viewership over the past month. ESPN is averaging 2.1 million
viewers through 14 games so far this season, up 21%
over the 1.7 million viewers through 13 games during the
same period in 2010-11. Th e network is pacing above the
2 million viewers it generated during the 2010-11 season,
which generated a 29% uptick over the previous season’s
telecasts.

“There’s certainly no dearth of NBA action on any given
night — it seems the [league’s] stars are playing every
night, so there’s always something for NBA fans to talk
about that’s fueling interest and keeping the league top of
mind for fans,” LaPlaca said.

Both NBA TV’s Miller and ESPN’s LaPlaca believe that
their respective networks can maintain their hot ratings
start throughout the rest of the NBA campaign.

“There’s nothing right now that would signal any slowdown
— there’s a lot of momentum, and fans are really
interested again,” LaPlaca said. “Because the stars are
playing so often, there are lots of highlights and good
stories to keep the momentum going.”

September