What happens when a league allows over half its teams to enter post season play in a best-of-seven, 4-round playoff format? Answer: a sheer bonanza of NBA playoff games on cable TV – last season, over 60 games on TNT and ESPN (nearly three-quarters of all games.)
The NBA playoff format is practically a season unto itself. After an 82-game regular season schedule that stretches from November to the middle of April, a team entering the playoffs would have to play anywhere from 16 to 28 additional games to be crowned the NBA Champion. Last season’s 2016 Champion, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had to slog through 21 post-season playoff games and the runner up – the Golden State Warriors – 24 games.
The NBA playoff format is also a very generous one, allowing 16 out of 30 pro teams to participate in post-season play. (In contrast, the National Football League and Major League Baseball allow roughly one-third of their respective teams to participate in post season play.) With all these playoff basketball games on cable, you might think that viewers would experience something equivalent to “fan fatigue”. But the fact of the matter is that – as the playoffs unfold – and teams advance from one round to the next, fan anticipation grows and along with it higher and higher U.S. ratings. Both TNT and ESPN more than doubled their ratings and shares from the First Round to the Conference Finals:
There’s always so much industry buzz about securing television sports rights… and for good reason. In a time of declining HUT (Homes Using Television) levels and the slow (but steady) migration of audiences to all things digital, major TV sporting events have been able to hold on to their respective audiences. And then some. Below are the ratings and shares for the NBA playoffs on TNT and ESPN over the past four years. Not only do advertisers benefit from reaching a highly engaged audience, but one that is sure to deliver consistently strong U.S. ratings and shares year in and year out:
Along with strong audience levels, viewing to the NBA playoffs is upscale with the highest indices peaking at the $250,000+ household income level – 115.9 and 114.7 for TNT and ESPN respectively:
In the end, the most compelling NBA playoff ratings story occurs within the DMAs of hometown participating teams. Below is a selection of several games across the three playoff rounds carried by TNT and ESPN. As just one example, the San Antonio Spurs visited the Oklahoma City Thunder on May 12th in a highly-contested Game 6 Western Conference Semifinal game on ESPN. The strong U.S. national rating of 4.44 was eclipsed 5-fold in the Spurs’ and Thunder’s home DMAs of San Antonio and Oklahoma City:
Local Cable Advertising Demand
Local cable advertising demand for the NBA Playoffs has been nothing short of spectacular. Over the past two playoff years (2015 & 2016), 600 Viamedia clients ordered 17,000+ :30-second spots across 68 Viamedia markets (over 90% of our entire national footprint.) That comes to 14 spots per client (per playoff year.) And when we confine our analysis to the 56 Viamedia markets that exhibited advertising over the past two playoff years, we find advertisers increased their overall investment by 10% — driven primarily by an increase in average 30-second unit pricing.
Source: Viamedia internal analysis of B.I.G.SM database. Copyright © 2017 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
As is the case with practically every major sporting event on cable, the automotive category dominates the NBA Playoffs – 59% of total local cable dollars over the past two years (2015 & 2016). The next seven categories combined accrue less than half of Automotive’s share:
A Repeat of Last Year?
The Golden State Warriors have the best regular season record in the NBA, which will give them the #1 Playoff Seed in the Western Conference – just like in 2015 and 2016. Which probably means that all roads to the NBA Championship run through Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Golden State Warriors. And there’s a very good chance that they will meet the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals for a third straight time.
At the other end of the spectrum we have two New York teams — the lowly Knicks and (Brooklyn) Nets – which followed up their 2015/16 dismal seasons with practically the same records this year. In other words, out of the playoffs once again. But that still leaves 16 teams in all that will make the playoffs come April 15th at which time fans across the country (and around the globe) will be treated to the very best basketball in the entire world.
Written by Jonathan Sims
VP of Media Research, Viamedia