TNT and ESPN tip off coverage of the NBA’s regular season this week with high viewership expectations, given the league’s overall appeal with fans and the introduction of an in-season tournament.
The pro hoops league tips off its 2023-24 campaign after averaging 1.6 million viewers during 2022-23, which was flat compared to 2021-22, according to SportsBusiness Journal.
While the NBA playoffs hit a five-year high with an average of 5.47 million viewers, the average of 11.65 million viewers for the five-game Denver Nuggets-Miami Heat NBA Finals was down 6% from the six-game 2022 Boston Celtics-Golden State Warriors finals, according to SportsMedia Watch.
TNT starts its NBA season October 24 with a doubleheader featuring the defending champion Denver Nuggets taking on the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns against the Golden State Warriors. Overall, TNT will air 65 regular-season NBA games, including its Martin Luther King Day doubleheader and its February All-Star Weekend coverage.
ESPN and ABC will air 100 games starting October 25, including the traditional five-game Christmas lineup. ABC recently added five Wednesday-night games in January, mostly to help fill its primetime lineup due to the ongoing Hollywood actors strike.
“We’re ready to go this season,” ESPN head of event and studio production David Roberts said on a conference call. “This season is going to be a very interesting season just because of all the balance throughout the league, and we’re ready to document that story, which is going to be a season-long series of just great storytelling throughout the year.”
New to this year’s campaign is the NBA In-Season Tournament, which will launch in November. The 30 NBA teams will play four games within randomly drawn, five-team groups within their conferences. The winning teams will advance to single-elimination rounds until a champion is crowned. TNT and ESPN will televise the in-season tournament games.
Warner Bros. Discovery Sports chief content officer Craig Barry said the tournament adds to an already intriguing regular season that features a new crop of rookies, including first-round pick Victor Wembanyama of the San Antonio Spurs.
“Any time that you can create a certain amount of urgency within the season, especially within the regular season, the players and the fans are going to respond to that,” he said. “[The in-season tournament] is a priority for the NBA and is obviously a priority for us and our other broadcast partners.”