Hungry for sports, spectators flock to the NBA, NHL

Home TV viewers are returning to watch the conclusions of basketball and hockey seasons interrupted by the coronavirus, giving both leagues a boost in prime-time ratings despite playing in empty arenas during the summer days.

The National Basketball Association attracts about 80% prime time viewers since its July 30 reboot compared to before suspending its season on March 11, according to an analysis of Nielsen data, while the National’s prime time audience Hockey League has more than doubled in a similar period.

Both leagues started the playoffs shortly after resuming play, and post-season matches tend to attract a wider audience. During the first round of the playoffs, the NBA attracted an average of 2.86 million prime time viewers, up 7.6% from last season’s first round, while the NHL’s first-round audience in prime time evening decreased by 3.7% to 627,000 spectators over the previous year. , according to Nielsen.

Ed Desser, a sports media consultant, said the pandemic has increased TV consumption by reducing the supply of new content, in turn creating a probable viewer benefit for sports leagues. Major League Baseball also posted excellent ratings during its opening week in late July.

“There are so many things that are different – the fewer people traveling, the more people staying at home at night and not going to restaurants – so the potential audience is actually larger,” said Mr. Desser.

Both leagues had to move their players to confined spaces to protect them from contracting and spreading the virus, which in turn forced them to hold some playoff games at unusual times, such as 1:30 pm on Tuesday. As a result, overall playoff ratings dropped from the previous year, when games were played in the evenings and on weekends. Analysts and insiders say broad comparisons are difficult, with prime-time rating numbers the only viable measure.

The NBA got a boost from high profile matches in the first round. According to Nielsen, the five games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers have ranked among the 12 most viewed television shows between 18 and 49 so far this summer. Overall, 13 NBA games topped Nielsen’s top 25.

The championship also benefited from several playoff series going to a game 7. The decisive game between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder was followed by 4.11 million people, while the Denver Nuggets’ victory over the Utah Jazz attracted 3, 39 million viewers. Both matches were decided at the last second.

The NHL playoffs began with a similar bang. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets kicked off round one with a game that ended in its fifth overtime, one of the longest playoff games in history and the most watched first day of NHL playoffs ever, according to broadcaster NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast Corp.

The NBA has protected its players and staff within Walt Disney Co.

the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, while the NHL has created two similar bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

NBA players in the bubble had to adapt to a new environment, including playing in front of “virtual” fans visible on giant screens surrounding the pitch instead of in front of rowdy crowds. Without the distraction of the fans, they found themselves scoring at higher percentages than ever.

The bubble environment means fewer facilities, creating further obstacles to programming for leagues. All NBA games are played on three courts, which must be thoroughly sanitized after play, forcing the league to schedule the first playoff games on weekdays. The first game of the series between Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, for example, began at 1:30 pm on Monday or 11:30 am for Colorado and Utah residents.

Analysts and insiders said the weekday early afternoon playoff list put pressure on overall ratings, making broad comparisons with last year’s playoffs difficult.

“The challenge is to compare apples to oranges in last year’s NBA postseason and now, in the bubble,” said Patrick Crakes, a sports media consultant. “Teams are losing windows in prime time and daytime matches are held during periods of lower usage.”

The NBA has been in the spotlight since its reboot, with players, coaches and referees kneeling during the national anthem before matches and players wearing jerseys with names and phrases associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Last week, the sports world stopped playing after the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott a playoff game to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man in Kenosha, Wis. For a while it was unclear whether the players would choose to end the season. altogether.

The NBA postponed games between Wednesday and Friday, while the NHL did not play Thursday and Friday. Both of them returned last weekend and had some of their most popular games since the bubble experiment began.

“There is an almost insatiable appetite for live sports on TV,” said Marc Ganis, president of sports media consultancy Sportscorp Ltd. “This is a time when not everything in broadcast and cable is on the rise. in terms of ratings and people could be watching alternatives like Netflix,

but they choose sport. “

Write to Lillian Rizzo to [email protected]

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