ESPN and NBA are hoping Santa Claus will deliver a ratings slam dunk on Christmas as the cable sports network and broadcast brethren ABC offer five live NBA games on Dec. 25.
With matchups featuring some of the league's most popular teams -- including a marquee matchup between LeBron James's Miami Heat and Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers -- ESPN senior director of programming and acquisitions Doug White said the league is poised to attract a significant number of NBA fanatics and sports enthusiasts.
"We look at Christmas in very much the same vein as the NFL treats Thanksgiving," he said. "A lot of people are home that day relaxing and watching television, and we thought that would be a great time to provide great content for fans."
The league's Christmas Day lineup begins at noon with ESPN's coverage of the Chicago Bulls-New York Knicks game, which will also be presented on ESPN 3D. ABC's begins its 2010-11 NBA season coverage at 2 p.m. with a doubleheader beginning with revamped Orlando Magic against the Boston Celtics, followed by the Miami -L.A. game.
ESPN finishes the night with a doubleheader featuring the Denver Nuggets-Oklahoma City Thunder and the Portland Trailblazers-Golden State Warriors games.
"The game inventory was there so we were able to come up with some good matches," said White. "It's a great opportunity to get in front of fans and showcase the NBA."
ESPN hopes to continue its hot ratings start with its Christmas slate of games. The network is off to its best start since the 2003-04 season, averaging 2.09 million viewers through 26 games, an increase of 36% over the same period last year.
White noted that traffic on ESPN.com's NBA page is up 26% with page views and videos up 17% and 10% respectively.
"Across the board this season has brought us a lot of increases in terms of the consumption of NBA on our platforms," he said.
While James's exploits with his new Heat team has spurred increased interest in the league this year, White also attributes ESPN's ratings gains to the emergence of other young and talented players such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony. He also pointed to the momentum the league generated from a strong and exciting 2009-10 postseason and a Keven Durant-led Team USA win in this past summer's FIBA World Championships, which qualified the Americans for the 2012 Olympics.
"The NBA never really left the minds of sports fans since last year's regular season - there‘s been a lot of great storylines and subplots leading into this season," he said.