Two games that came down to the last possession, and a telecast filled innovation, helped the National Basketball Association record an average 2.9 million viewers on its opening night on Thursday. The season was delayed due to the Covid 19 outbreak.
Turner Sports’ broadcast of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 103-101 victory over the Clippers averaged 3.4 million viewers throughout the game, including on TNT and its TV Everywhere platform, according to the network. It peaked between 9:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET with an average of viewers 4.1 million viewers as sports fans watched Anthony Davis and the Lakers battle the Kawhi Leonard-led Clippers down to the final shot.
Turner did have to share coverage with regional sports networks as NBA seeding games are aired both locally and/or nationally.
The Utah Jazz’s 106-104 win over the Zion Williamson-led New Orleans Pelicans averaged 2.1 million viewers. The Pelicans blew a seven-point lead in the final seven minutes before Brandon Ingram missed a 25-foot 3-pointer in the last seconds.
Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who triggered the NBA’s shutdown in March after contracting coronavirus, scored the game’s first points on a layup to kick-start the NBA’s return. Gobert finished with 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. The game peaked between 9:00 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. ET with an average of 3.4 million viewers.
The NBA partnered with some of its top corporate sponsors, including Microsoft, Verizon, and Anheuser-Busch, to bring viewers different camera angles, virtual reality cheering sections for fans, and added microphones to enhance sound effects.
According to ESPN, a league TV partner and host of its bubble campus, the NBA spent roughly $150 million to build the site. The cost to host an individual at the Orlando location is approximately $60,000 per person, including daily Covid-19 testing.
“It was not easy to convert the Worldwide Sports Complex into essentially a state-of-the-art television studio and they did it,” said Dan Cohen, senior vice president of Octagon’s global media rights consulting division.
Cohen also applauded the NBA’s enhanced sound effects like in-game chatter, including from Leonard during the game, and he hopes to add more mics for additional chatter. He also praised the virtual fans, which he said look more presentable than the cardboard cutout fans used in some baseball games and soccer.
Cohen added the “socially distanced interviews” with coaches was Turner’s attempt to match its usual “TNT feel.” He suggested the network “go from the broadcast booth to the coach and give him a mic and earbud and chat that way, so you can focus the camera on just the coach.” Cohen said the new camera angles were a bit too much like a video game presentation, however.
“But I’m also a supporter of innovation, so if that is going to attract a certain kind of audience or entice a younger audience to tune in because they are accustomed to it, then this is the time to mix it up,” Cohen said. “This is the time to try new things.”
Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury handles the ball against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 25, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.
Copyright 2020 NBAE | Stephen Gosling | NBAE via Getty Images
Strong start for WNBA
The WNBA bubble openers on July 25 and 26 also had solid ratings. The game between the Sparks and Phoenix Mercury on ABC last Saturday averaged 539,000 viewers and peaked around 3:45-4 p.m. at 617,000 viewers.
ESPN said ABC’s telecast between the Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces averaged 433,000 viewers. Last Saturday’s contest between the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty on ESPN averaged 419,000 viewers.
According to ESPN, the network’s “four-game opening slate averaged 401,000 viewers across ESPN and ABC, up 63% over the 2019 WNBA regular-season average on ESPN’s Networks.”
On Friday night, the WNBA will play three games. The NBA has six games scheduled for Friday evening.