Fever Or Frenzy?

For as suspect as I typically am about the legitimacy of TV ratings, there is no way on G-d’s green Earth I will concede that the measurement of viewership tonight in the Indianapolis DMA will be accurate.  It is simply too big a night for pro basketball fans to not find some way to be in front of two screens at once.

Under normal circumstances, the fact that the Pacers are readying themselves for a Game 5 showdown in New York with the Knicks would be reason enough to concede that a market that adores basketball would be rapt and ravenous.  Indiana has taken full advantage of an injury-depleted Knicks team as well as the home court advantage they enjoyed in the previous two games to even up their Eastern Conference semifinals series, bringing back the emotions and tenor of these teams’ classic battles of the 90s.

The respective beat writers for THE ATHLETIC, Fred Katz and Eric Nehm, set up the stakes that will unfold in what is now a de facto best-of-three:

Katz: The Knicks need to get Brunson going.

The Knicks move as Brunson does. Anunoby will miss Game 5. Robinson, Bojan Bogdanović and Julius Randle remain out. Especially with all the injuries, Brunson is their source of offense. The attack has dampened since his foot injury when he hasn’t created shots at an All-Star level.

But Brunson remains one of the league’s top scorers. He is, as Thibodeau says, an offense unto himself. When he’s draining floaters and fadeaways, New York wins games. If he can do that two more times in this series, the Knicks have a chance to win it.

Nehm: Heading into Game 3, the Pacers opted to put 6-foot-5 wing Nesmith and his 6-10 wingspan on Brunson. It’s unclear if that’s had an impact on Brunson or if he just isn’t healthy enough to make the same impact offensively.

Limiting Brunson is the first thing that they need to do to beat the Knicks twice in the next three games. After that, it may be as simple as continuing to get high-level production from Haliburton and executing well defensively.

After a poor effort in Game 3, the Pacers were much more locked in defensively, giving up fewer good 3-point looks to DiVincenzo and helping more successfully off of Hart. If the Pacers limit Brunson, get high-level production from Haliburton and execute defensively, they can take two of the next three games and make a shocking Eastern Conference finals appearance.

That’s exciting.  But what will be happening with Indiana’s other pro team roughly 126 miles due north and east of Madison Square Garden will be historic.  Per FRONT OFFICE SPORTS’ David Rumsey and Eric Fisher :

The most-anticipated WNBA season in the league’s 27-year existence begins Tuesday night with four matchups across the country, highlighted by the regular-season debut of former Iowa sensation Caitlin Clark (above) as the Indiana Fever visit the Connecticut Sun at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Mainstream interest in Clark is putting an even bigger spotlight on the WNBA as it continues to grow and capitalize on the overall momentum of women’s sports.

ON3’s Nikki Chavanelle wrote yesterday that even in an area already addicted to women’s basketball such as where the Sun (and, of course, UConn) play, Clark’s presence is already shattering decades-old records:

On Monday ahead of the WNBA’s opening tipoff, the Connecticut Sun announced a sellout for game one against the Indiana Fever starring first-overall draft pick Caitlin Clark. The Sun sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena’s 8,910 seats for the Tuesday night game.  According to the host team, the 8,910-ticket sell-out is their first since the Sun’s inaugural game at Mohegan Sun Arena in 2003 against the Los Angeles Sparks. 

And that passion has transcended to even the boardroom of Disney, who acknowledges that ESPN2 alone is hardly sufficient for the magnitude of what will transpire tonight.  Per Chavanelle again:

Luckily, fans of the Fever, the Sun or Caitlin Clark who don’t want to pay such high prices have the opportunity to stream the game next Tuesday. ESPN announced last week that the WNBA tip-off game will stream live on the Disney+ platform. 

This will be the first time that Disney+ will stream live sports. It did have experimental streams with the NFL and NHL, in which it used technology to stream games live, but with animated characters instead of real-life athletes. The hope is Clark and the Fever will bring in maximum eyeballs to Disney+. The news came after Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company would add an ESPN title to Disney+ later this year, with selected live games available at no charge.

And by utilizing the global reach of the streaming platform that extends beyond North America, it means that Clark and the WNBA will be potentially reaching farther than they ever have, timing not lost on Rumsey and Fisher:

The WNBA’s current broadcast partners are Amazon, CBS Sports, Disney, and Scripps Sports. Amazon and CBS recently extended their deals, and Disney is in negotiations with its deal expiring in 2025. Engelbert has said the WNBA’s goal is to double its rights fee intake, which currently stands at roughly $60 million annually. Disney’s current deal is tied to its NBA contract, and a new deal with both leagues could have a similar structure.

And Disney’s braintrust is savvy enough to know that the way audiences are counted in reality for streaming services go far beyond the current limitations of how Nielsen measures television.   I have little doubt the phenomenon of simultaneous viewing, or at bare minimum rapid back-and-forth switching, will be especially prevalent in the Indianapolis DMA.

So forget about the “or” in this musing’s title.  I’m of the mindset it will replaced by an “and”.



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