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 alone (not to mention the numerous other playoff games on ESPN2 and regional sports networks.)
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 2014 NBA Champion, the San Antonio Spurs, had to slog through 23 post-season playoff games – that’s more than one-quarter of the entire regular season!
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:
Not only do cable ratings rise as the playoffs progress, but there has also been a general increase in fan viewing from the 2013 to 2014 NBA playoffs:
The very high national viewership we find on TNT and ESPN is just the tip of the iceberg when we isolate individual markets with a direct link to a specific NBA playoff team.
For example, the Western Conference Final Game 6 on TNT between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder (5/31/2014) pulled down a robust 5.1 U.S. Household Rating. But “robust” is a relative term. The #1 highest DMA rating for the game was San Antonio with a 30.4 market rating! That’s 6-times the size of the national rating. And the second highest DMA rating? You guessed it: Oklahoma City – not far behind with a 28.6 market rating.
The same can be said for ESPN.
The Eastern Conference Final Game 5 between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers (5/28/2014) had a U.S. rating of 5.7, with the number 1 and 2 rated DMAs being Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (28.8 market rating) and Indianapolis (20.2 market rating):
The NBA playoffs on cable pack a double punch for advertisers.
Not only do the games attract a very large, highly engaged audience – they also attract an audience that is remarkably upscale. Indeed, the link between rating size and household income is practically a straight line relationship:
Boom in Local Cable Advertising
Viamedia’s local cable clientele set an advertising record for the NBA Playoffs in 2014.
Across 61 (out of 71) Viamedia markets, nearly 400 advertisers invested in over 10,000 (equivalized) 30-second spots. That comes to an average of 26.5 spots per advertiser – a remarkable 69% increase over the 2013 NBA Playoffs:
In confining our analysis to the 43 markets that exhibited advertising in both years, we found overall ad investments up 12%. And of some note is the marked increase in local market ad demand when the home team is involved in the playoffs. Last year, five NBA teams made the playoffs (after missing them the prior year – 2013). And of these five teams, three of them (the Portland Trailblazers, Charlotte Bobcats and the Washington Wizards) are based in Viamedia markets for which we accrued ad dollars in both years. In these three markets (Portland, OR, Charlotte, NC and Washing D.C.) Viamedia’s clients ratcheted up their ad investment 75%!
(Source: Viamedia internal analysis of B.I.G.SM database (Sports & High Profile Tracker module). Copyright © 2015 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 – 55% of total local cable dollars over the past two years (2013 & 2014). But unlike college and professional football, the NBA attracts a fairly healthy chunk of network tune-in dollars from both broadcast and cable networks alike – 10%:
First Taxes, Then the Playoffs
The NBA holds the dubious distinction of ending its regular season on the same day our taxes are due — April 15th!
Not an auspicious way to end the season.
But three days later, the fun and excitement begin for millions of fans as the NBA playoffs kick in with Conference Quarter Final Games, starting April 18th.
As for me, I feel a little bit like an “outsider looking in”. You see, I’m a New York Knicks fan, and after our first year with the Zen-master, Phil Jackson, calling the shots at Madison Square Garden, the playoffs have receded into the far, far distant future.
For more information on Viamedia, visit www.viamediatv.com.
– Written by Jonathan Sims, VP Media Research, Viamedia