Supply And Demand. Ratings Be Damned.

There are actually two elimination tournaments ongoing with the NBA right now.  The on-court one, of course, is the one that started Saturday wjhich most fans and observers know and care about, particularly if you’re fans of the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, who are largely ready to either gun down any male in a striped jersey or jump off a bridge, perhaps both.

The other is the one that started at midnight yesterday that arguably will impact far more of us far longer and more significantly.

The ATHLETIC’s prolific Andrew Marchand laid out the details of the latter in a detailed article that dropped early Monday:

In TV rights negotiations, the NBA is seeking new decade-long — or longer — contracts that will alter how it traditionally delivers games, with streaming becoming the principal distribution method, according to league and television executives briefed on the plans.

While the incumbents, ESPN/ABC and TNT Sports, remain intensely interested and very well could retain their rights, it is nearly assured that a new tech partner will join the mix, with Amazon Prime Video the perceived favorite.  Meanwhile, NBC, which aired the Michael Jordan era that elevated the league, covets returning the NBA to its broadcast network and streaming service, Peacock.

There will be at least three separate packages, which is the NBA’s preference, but the idea of four has not been ruled out, those briefed on the discussions said.

The notion that a pure streamer, like Amazon, could have significant games, including conference finals and perhaps even the NBA Finals at some point over the life of a long-term deal is a possibility, according to executives briefed on the NBA’s discussions.

And that’s an especially eyebrow-raising statement when one considers the rather tepid data points detailed in a story for FORBES authored by our longtime friend and colleague Brad Adgate:

According to Sports Media Watch, the national television average audience for 2023-24 NBA regular season on ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV averaged 1.09 million viewers. The average audience was a slight (+1%) uptick from 2022-23 and the most watched regular season in four years. NBA TV, which televised 107 games, averaged 330,000 viewers, a sharp year-over-year increase of 15%. Conversely, the average audience for ABC, ESPN and TNT collectively averaged 1.59 million viewers, the lowest in three years. Conversely, in 2023-24, the NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC averaged 3.1 million viewers, an increase of 12% and the most watched in five years.

That’s an awful lot of converse for a league that hasn’t worn them in decades.

And the first wave of data from this year’s playoffs hardly provides a significantly rosier outlook, as SMW’s Jon Lewis updated late yesterday:

There were a couple of bright spots, but the opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs could not overcome a spate of blowouts and the absence of the Golden State Warriors.  The opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs averaged a 2.0 rating and 3.77 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, TNT and truTV, down 8% in ratings and 9% in viewership from last year (2.2, 4.15M), which was the most-watched opening weekend since 2011 (4.32M).

But that’s honestly not what the likes of Amazon Prime Video, Google, Netflix and Apple TV+ care most about.  Nielsen ratings for that 20th century invention called television?  How quaint.

As global platforms with significant traction and ability to cross-pollinate via social media, they are far more likely to have been moved by this nugget from Riccardo Bresaola of the international site GLOBAL DATA:

North America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) has announced that the 2023-24 regular season delivered record-breaking engagement in Europe and the Middle East (EME) across the NBA App, NBA League Pass, and the league’s 18 localized social media accounts.

The NBA had its most-viewed season ever across the league’s social and digital platforms in EME, passing 1 billion video views in the region for the first time. 

More than 700 million views came from the league’s accounts in Europe alone, the most among the major US professional sports leagues in Europe this season.

The league’s 18 localized social media accounts in EME, meanwhile, which feature content in eight languages, generated a 100% year-over-year increase in views, with social media followers in the region increasing by more than 50% year-over-year.

Watch time on the NBA Europe YouTube channel increased by 220% year-over-year, with viewership on the NBA App in EME up by 39% year-over-year.

Additionally, four European NBA players were among the 10 most-viewed players globally on NBA social media this season, with Victor Wembanyama (San Antonio Spurs; France; 1.3 billion views; 3rd overall), five-time NBA All-Star Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks; Slovenia; 1.2 billion views; 4th overall), two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets; Serbia; 618 million views; 6th overall) and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks; Greece; 558 million views; 8th overall), on that list.

And all but Wembanyama are in this year’s playoffs and given Wemby’s youth, there’s an exceptionally strong likelihood he will eventually have a Curry-like hold on the landscape at some point during the next media rights deal, likely sooner than later.

And, bluntly, the NBA’s younger and more platform-agnostic appeal lends itself far more toward entities that can best populate and navigate shorter-form consumption.  You don’t need to necessarily have to sit through an interminable number of stoppages to review play after play in an era where the scrutiny and impact on proposition betting demands it.  Just look for an alert from your favorite content aggregator, watch a slam dunk meme and go on with your life.

And if that doesn’t necessarily describe the way you may consume media these days, you may not be part of the demographic or even the geolocation where the league sees the greatest upside.

No truer words have been written about the unfolding of the media rights elimination tournament than those penned by Adgate:

In the new digital age, the NBA’s next deals will be about tomorrow, not yesterday.

And if you’re a Sixers or Lakers fan, I have little doubt you are enthusiastically shaking your head in agreement with that philosophy.



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