Thursday, May 17, 2007

A DudeSpin Rebuttal (Or, The NBA is Not Soaring!)

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.


Head Dude said...

Yeah, the Dude couldn't be further off on the NBA domestically. The NFL is soaring, and has been doing so for the last two decades since the Niners/Cowboys/Packers era, and the NBA has been declining since MJ retired. The Shaq/Kobe dynamic helped somewhat, but it ain't happening now.

As usual, the Sports Guy had a dead-on column yesterday about the situation. He may talk about Boston way too much, but he knows his NBA. As he said, Diaw and Stoudamire spent about 2 seconds reacting defensively to protect the most popular player on their team, and then exercised good restraint and returned to the bench. And that should lead to them, barring a surprise, losing probably the best chance in their career for an NBA title? I don't care about the "letter of the law" -- the NBA isn't a court of law, it's a sports league. If the Spurs close them out, fans may tune in to see if LeBron can win a title, but that's about it. Stern has succeeded greatly in promoting the game internationally, but it seems almost to the exclusion of the U.S., and that's another reason why these NBA finals, unless the Suns or Cavs are involved, will join the last two years as being the three lowest-rated finals ever.

Dude, you're a huge fan and watch League Pass religiously. And I'm a huge fan because my favorite team is a perennial power. But we're not the norm.

Grizzly said...

What's funny is that all season the Western Conference has been the one to watch. Now, if it ends up Spurs-Jazz, will anyone watch? The Jazz just have the stain of boredom on them thanks to Jerry Sloan (even if they may be an exciting team). The Spurs will likely win in 5, with most games being played in the 80s.

Then, you are left with LeBron to carry all the interest. The problem is the Cavs suck other than LeBron, and LeBron is not afraid to take the occasional night off. I think the Mavs, Suns, and Lakers are where the tv ratings are.

Head Dude said...

What frustrates me most is if seeds had held and the Mavs were waiting on the Spurs at this point, 98% of NBA fans would be rooting for the Mavs against the Spurs, and unlike last year when people didn't really react to them one way or the other, they'd finally gain a little opposed to the embarassment that they got instead.

The Dude said...

You know what fellas? I was wrong on the domestic popularity front. I'll admit it, I'm sorry. (Unlike Head Dude, I'll actually admit and own up to instances when I make erroneous claims that are later exposed to be completely wrong).