There has been much ado about the ratings for the NBA during the league's bubble restart. You may have noticed some guy in the White House tweeting about it. But even outside of the political world, thinkpieces litter the Internet about the whys behind what appear to be sub-optimal ratings for basketball, considering how long sports have been gone and the quantity of games.
There are probably a number of reasons for this that are pretty simple. Things like this being an election year, which generally brings a downward trend for sports ratings other than the NFL. Or like there being a bunch of games on in the middle of the afternoon when most sports fans are working and don't have the time to watch Orlando and Toronto play at 1 p.m. ET. Or, as many intelligent minds have argued back and forth about, the NBA audience swings younger and that generation leans on the cord-cutting side of things.
But that's not what this is about. Well, it kind of is. This article is about ratings, but not in the big picture. It's simply the ratings for Game 7 of the Denver Nuggets-Utah Jazz series, which put up gigantic numbers considering the home markets for these two teams and the lack of gigantic names like LeBron James or Anthony Davis. Richard Deitsch of The Athletic has the details:
This game was heavily marketed and the audience didn't need much encouragement after the firework shows Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell put on in the previous games. But, as Deitsch notes, it's a huge win for the NBA and its network partners.
The networks had largely stuck to the 6:30 p.m. ET/9 p.m. ET evening schedule for games throughout the restart. Once a few teams were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs, the TV schedule reverted back to only two games per day. Until Tuesday evening, that meant games at 6:30 and 9 p.m. But last night, trying to up the ratings for Game 7, the first game of the slate was moved to 5:30 p.m. ET and the second was bumped to 8:30 p.m. ET.
The fact that it paid off like this is important because, while we don't have the numbers, it's likely moving Boston-Toronto to 5:30 p.m. hurt the ratings for that game. Given it was Game 2 of a second-round series, there wasn't a "must-watch" component for anybody outside of those markets to start, but most people who get off work at 5 have things to do before settling down for sports in the evening. But ABC and ESPN decided to make a bet that all the hype of a playoff Game 7, combined with how entertaining the previous games were, would be worth a leap of faith. And it turns out it was.
It's especially impressive considering how awful that Game 7 was, and at the same time shows how important the decision to move it up was. I wouldn't call it an exaggeration to say a vast majority of East Coast viewers would have turned that game off without hesitation if the first half ended around 10:30 like it would have if the game started at 9. But since it was just a little bit earlier, the amount of viewers who did that likely lessened slightly.
The ratings were also helped by A.) The game taking place on a Tuesday night, instead of a weekend where many people find other activities to engage in and B.) It being on ABC. This game had built-in advantages that others do not. But for a Jazz-Nuggets game to get those kind of numbers is an undeniable victory for the league and for the networks, as well as a sign of positive things to come once the stakes get higher and the names get bigger.