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ESPN, TNT Broadcasts Average 1.87M Viewers in Season’s Opening Week

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November 4, 2022
November 4, 2022
 min read

Four months after the Golden State Warriors won their seventh NBA championship in franchise history by defeating the Boston Celtics in the Finals, opening night of the 2022-2023 campaign marked the end of a euphoric summer. Long after the champagne showers ended, cigar smoke cleared the air, and a parade through the Bay Area reached its conclusion, there was one final celebration to stage before starting anew. As part of an on-court ceremony prior to their game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors received their championship rings during a presentation aired on TNT. The game and its festivities comprised the nightcap of a double feature on TNT that also included an Atlantic Division showdown between the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics and rival Philadelphia 76ers. We used MVP’s broadcast platform to examine viewership totals from the season tip-off programming windows on October 18 and subsequent NBA games through Monday, October 24 to highlight which teams drew the most early interest, contrast national broadcast partners’ audiences, and make year-over-year comparisons with the opening week of the 2021-2022 season. We found the eight games airing on ESPN and TNT to begin the current campaign averaged 1.87 million viewers, peaking with the defending champs on opening night.

Audience Totals Dip After Opening Night

The first game of the season between Boston and Philadelphia held the top spot in overall audience rankings for only a matter of minutes before the marquee Western Conference matchup between Golden State and the Lakers took place later that evening. The pair of opening night contests drew 2.23 million and 2.57 million household viewers, respectively, and those figures ranked first and second overall throughout the opening week of regular season NBA action. While those totals were higher than their corresponding time slots a year earlier — the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets drew 2.03 million in the early window followed by 2.5 million for the Warriors and Lakers to open the 2021-2022 season – audiences for national broadcasts dipped as the week continued. Five of the ensuing six nationally televised games drew smaller audiences than their direct comparisons a year earlier, with the exception being a late Friday night contest. This year’s matchup between Golden State and the Denver Nuggets on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET drew 2.14 million viewers compared to 2.09 million for a game featuring the Lakers and Phoenix Suns to cap off Friday’s coverage in last season’s opening week. Overall, last year’s opening-week average of 1.95 million for national games was 3.8% higher than this year’s figure, with ESPN games accounting for the largest share of the discrepancy. Four games aired by the Worldwide Leader in Sports during opening week in 2021 averaged 2.05 million viewers, compared to just 1.91 million this year. TNT’s dip was less significant, as its average fell from 1.85 million to 1.84 million year-over-year.

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Timberwolves, Cavaliers Buoy RSN Declines

Our analysis included 33 games on regional sports networks during this season’s opening week as well as 30 from last year’s initial seven days, and the contrast on RSNs was much starker than that on national networks. Each data set included 13 games with at least 100,000 viewers, but there was a 21.7% difference in year-over-year averages. The games we examined from 2021 averaged 115,840 household viewers, while this year’s RSN broadcasts drew only 95,182 per game. However, there were a few teams that stood out for their attractiveness in local markets. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who made a splash in the offseason by acquiring Rudy Gobert to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns in an intimidating frontcourt, had the highest average viewership on RSNs among teams with multiple games airing only locally. Their combined average for home and away RSNs was 168,079, up 60.1% from its opening week average in 2021. The Cleveland Cavaliers experienced an even larger relative spike, increasing its average viewership by 63.6% to 150,648 this season. Finally, in the Sooner State, the Oklahoma City Thunder grew its average viewership by 15.3% to 139,334. Notably, the Timberwolves and Thunder met twice during the opening week of the 2022-2023 season.

Midway Through the First Quarter

This season has included a surprising start for many presumed contenders and storylines galore for teams across the league, but there is still plenty left to unfold. MVP will continue to monitor broadcast stories to reveal whether the Timberwolves, Cavaliers, and Thunder can maintain their momentum as the season progresses while also exploring how national television partners respond to opening-week declines. Be on the lookout also for social and brand value stories from the NBA, its teams, and partners throughout the 2022-2023 season.

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