Intrigued by the Dude's comment on my last post that interest in the NBA is actually up despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, I decided to try to find some stats to support one side or the other. I was able to dig up the league's TV ratings, and while those numbers aren't the be-all and end-all of fan interest, they can help illuminate trends.
ABC entered this season coming off back-to-back record low ratings for regular season games on network TV. Three of the last four NBA Finals have placed in the lowest six Finals of all time, and since the smart money seems to be on the Spurs and Pistons meeting for the championship this year, it's worth noting that those same two teams played to the fifth-lowest audience for the Finals ever two years ago. I suppose it's possible that more people will want to watch them in 2007, which would support The Dude's claim, but we'll have to wait and see. My gut feeling is that the ratings will be lower.
Things have been slightly better on cable, with ESPN and TNT actually posting slight regular season increases from 2004-05 to 2005-06. Again, we'll have to wait and see what the numbers tell us when this season's ratings are released. The playoffs have been a mixed bag, with TNT's conference finals ratings declining for three straight seasons, while ESPN actually made a nice gain from 2005 to 2006. I'm betting the NBA is counting on the Cavs propping up the Eastern Conference ratings, but LeBron and company haven't been the TV draw thus far that one might expect.
For The Dude to be correct in his pronouncement that domestic interest in the NBA is actually on the rise, I'd expect that the TV numbers would be up (at least slightly) across the board. However, the one number we do have for this season doesn't make this look like a promising prospect. Despite a ridiculous amount of promotion for its debut in Las Vegas, the 2007 NBA All-Star Game was the least watched edition ever.
If Americans are more into the NBA, it's either a development so recent that it happened just this year, or they aren't backing up their love of the game by watching it on television.