The 'NBA Cup' Runneth Over: In-Season Tournament Championship Generates ABC/ESPN's Biggest Non-Christmas Pro Hoops Audience in Six Years

 In-Season Tournament Championship 2023.
In-Season Tournament Championship 2023.

The NBA's attempt to breath life into its early regular season with a playoff style overlay to its normal schedule was a resounding success.

Saturday's In-Season Tournament championship game, featuring the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Indiana Pacers for the inaugral "NBA Cup," averaged a combined 4.58 million viewers across ABC and ESPN 2, the NBA announced Tuesday citing Nielsen metrics.

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With the primetime audience peaking at nearly 5.8 million watchers towards the end of the the contest, which started at 8:30 p.m. ET, that was the NBA's biggest TV viewership for a non-Christmas regular-season game since February 2018. Sports Media Watch noted that the 4.14 million viewers averaged by ABC alone was the biggest non-Xmas viewership since the beginning of the 2017 season.

The game represented a 64% ratings uptick over ABC's NBA Saturday Primetime average last season. It was ABC's first presentation of the package this season, and it also represented a 46% audience increase over last season's NBA Saturday Primetime debut.

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About 10% of Saturday's audience was funneled through an ESPN 2 simulcast, which featured a new live game presentation package called NBA Unplugged with Kevin Hart.

Notably, both ABC's broadcast and the ESPN 2 simulcast went up against ESPN's coverage of the 2023 Heisman Trophy Presentation.

The NBA announced earlier that its eight initial "group play" games generated a 20% year-over-year audience uptick for league games scheduled on Friday nights in November.

All In-Season Tournament games, save for the championship, counted as part of teams' regular 82-game schedule.