Why is NBA TV viewership up so much?

The first 325 games of this NBA season averaged attendance of 17,094. That’s better than 89 percent of capacity, and a hair better than the first 325 games of last season, which averaged 17,057.

But almost every other indicator blows those in-arena numbers away. Viewership is going a bit nuts:

  • ABC has had just three games, so it’s hard to say anything conclusive, but the audience is up five percent compared to a year ago.
  • ESPN viewership is up 23 percent.
  • TNT viewership is up 50 percent.
  • NBA TV viewership is up an insane 66 percent.
  • NBA on regional cable sports networks are up 12 percent.
  • Local over-the-airwaves broadcasts are up 36 percent.

NBA TV is particularly interesting. Five of the channel’s ten most viewed games ever have been this season, with January’s Lakers-Clippers game the most viewed game in network history.

That is from Henry Abbott, here is more.  Many people thought the strike would hurt fan interest, but apparently not.  (It did hurt my interest, but not out of any grudge; I tuned into a few early games and found them unspeakably bad in terms of quality.  By now most players seem to be in shape, although blowouts and lopsided low scores remain too common.  I believe the spread of the “team coordination” variable has increased.)  Is this a behavioral effect?  Like taking the peanuts away and making people crave them more?

Do more frequent games, in response to the strike-shortened season, spur a greater “habit formation” demand?  Do more frequent games imply that a major star is playing on TV virtually every night?  That is my hypothesis.  How will the NBA respond?

By the way, I have a longstanding custom of predicting, or rather failing to predict, the NBA championship winner each year.  This year I say it is wide open, yet to be determined, and ask me again after the trade deadline.  MLE is Miami, but a well-coordinated lesser team could knock them off, especially if they remain injury-prone.


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