The business of the NBA is good

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
6:06
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
There was a common refrain during the lockout, which was: Doesn't the NBA realize that whenever they get back in business, the fans won't be there waiting?

Not so, evidently.

The first 325 games of this NBA season averaged attendance of 17,094. That's better than 89 percent of capacity, and a hair better than the first 325 games of last season, which averaged 17,057.

But almost every other indicator blows those in-arena numbers away. Viewership is going a bit nuts:
  • ABC has had just three games, so it's hard to say anything conclusive, but the audience is up five percent compared to a year ago.
  • ESPN viewership is up 23 percent.
  • TNT viewership is up 50 percent.
  • NBA TV viewership is up an insane 66 percent.
  • NBA on regional cable sports networks are up 12 percent.
  • Local over-the-airwaves broadcasts are up 36 percent.

NBA TV is particularly interesting. Five of the channel's ten most viewed games ever have been this season, with January's Lakers-Clippers game the most viewed game in network history.

There are also all kinds of social media signs the NBA is popular. In the U.S. alone, something like 180 million people are said to like or follow the NBA, its teams and its players. The league says no other sport can top that.

The audience growth is not just domestic, either. In China, for instance, the league recently announced that TV ratings are up 39 percent.

The TV ratings don't affect the immediate bottom line for the league -- their economic value to the NBA is mainly in informing how much broadcast rights might sell for in the future.

But those with knowledge of the bottom line are all smiles at the moment too. The league has inked a huge deal with Sprint, signed up Under Armour, and recently extended existing relationships with Anheuser-Busch, Gatorade, and AutoTrader.com.

Companies running NBA-themed ads in the early part of this season have included adidas, Budweiser, BBVA, Gatorade, Kia Motors, Nike, State Farm, Spalding, Sprint and Under Armour.

Another theme of the lockout was how much money the players lost. Those numbers won't be known until the end of the year, because the players are guaranteed 51.15 percent of the league's "basketball-related income" this season. As the league keeps prospering, selling more tickets, closing more deals and the like, basketball-related income keeps growing, bringing players' compensation along with it.

This may prove to be a more lucrative season for players than had been expected.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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