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Despite Lockout, NBA Scores in Ratings

4/30/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

For a season that was in serious jeopardy,
the 2011-12 National Basketball Association season turned
out to be a very strong one with the
Nielsens.

Despite the lockout lopping 16
games off the standard 82-contest
schedule and pushing back the
season’s tipoff to Christmas, the
national carriers netted a host of
ratings records.

TNT scored the highest-rated
and most-watched campaign in its
28 years with the league, while inhouse
service NBA TV continued
its ascent with game coverage and
flanking programming. ABC enjoyed
the best of its 10 years with
the pro-basketball league and its
top marks for a broadcaster since
1999 — the last time an NBA season
was cut short by labor woes.
Only ESPN failed to move ahead,
but the worldwide leader matched
its record-setting performance
from the 2011-12 campaign.

“There was the Chris Paul trade
to the Clippers, and the Christmas
start,” NBA Digital general manager
Christina Miller said. “There was
Ricky Rubio and then the emergence
of Jeremy Lin. All those built
on top of last season’s momentum,
so there were new storylines coming
off what was a very strong 2010-
11 season.”

Could the lockout actually have
helped? “I’m certainly not going
to go as far as to say that,” ESPN vice president of programming
and acquisitions Leah LaPlaca said. “But
the NBA was coming off such a strong year, and there
was no waning of interest from last season into the condensed
season.”

ABC averaged a 3.3 U.S. household rating, 3.83 million
households and 5.4 million viewers for its 15 NBA
games during the labor-shortened season, according to
Nielsen. Measured against the 2010-11 season, ABC was
up 10% in rating from a
3.0, 9% in households
from 3.52 million and
6% from an audience
of 5.11 million.

LaPlaca said “we
were very fortunate
with the ABC schedule.
We had the Bulls,
Heat, Lakers, Clippers
and caught the Knicks
with Linsanity.”

ESPN, over 73 games,
averaged a 1.5 cable rating,
matching its bestever
per formance,
which took place during
the 2010-11 season.
La Placa said the “condensed
season put a
number of games outside
of ESPN’s traditional
Wednesday and
Friday windows” and
its coverage also went
up against some NCAA
men’s basketball tournament
games. “Still, ESPN
matched the 2010-11 season,
which was our mostviewed.
It was a good
year with the NBA.”

It was a very good year
for the 59 million-home
NBA TV, which over
96 games rang up a 33% increase, to 337,000 viewers from
253,000 for the same number of contests last season and a
34% jump to 266,000 households from 199,000. Six of the network’s
top 10 telecasts came this season, including the battle
for the Staples Center between the Los Angeles Lakers and
Clippers on Jan. 14 that averaged 756,000 viewers, NBA TV’s
most ever for a regular-season affair.

Throughout the season, NBA TV scored a 26% gain in viewers
to 177,000 and a 27% rise to 141,000 homes in primetime

“The density of the schedule helped NBA TV. Not only
were there so many great games, but Open Court, Game
Time
and NBA Action all grew,” Miller said.

NBA TV ADDS PLAYOFFS

In a further show of strength, the network will step up its
game, producing up to nine playoff contests. The telecasts
will be the first NBA TV will produce independently, with
TNT and NBA TV commentators, since Turner Sports and
the NBA inked their partnership to jointly manage the
league’s digital assets.

Meanwhile, TNT, in its 28th season with the league,
dunked its fifth straight year of growth among viewers
and households, according to officials at the “drama”
network. Over 45 contests, TNT averaged a 1.7 U.S. rating,
up 6% from a 1.6 mark during last season; 1.91 million
households, ahead 6% over last year’s 1.79 million; and
2.49 million viewers, 4% more than 2.39 million last year,
according to Nielsen data.

All told, the top six 2011-12 NBA regular-season games on
cable aired on the “drama” network, including two of the
top five in cable history.

What about the playoffs? “Going from the regular season
into the postseason, there are again many strong narratives
that will drive interest,” Miller said of TNT’s annual
“40 games in 40 nights” presentation that will culminate
this season with exclusive coverage of the Western Conference
finals.

Since the partners alternate by season under the current
contract that expires in 2016, ESPN will present the Eastern
Conference finals, before ABC televises the NBA Finals,
which will tip later this year because of the lockout.

Would ABC season take a rematch of last season’s Finals
between the Heat and Dirk Nowitzki and the defending
champion Dallas Mavericks, which averaged 17.3 million
viewers?

“It was a great matchup with two big markets,” LaPlaca
said.”Let’s see how things play out.”

The 14 other playoff teams will have something to say
about that.

September