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What the NBA Opening Night Numbers Say About the Future of Viewership

The numbers from the first games of the 2022-23 regular season were the highest in five years. What does that mean for the NBA’s future media rights deals? Boardroom explores.

NBA viewership numbers are relatively inconsistent, but in most instances, they don’t tell the full story of how they’re growing the product in a variety of different ways. So far, the league is off to a good start in all categories.

With LeBron James and Steph Curry headlining — two of the league’s most marketable players — along with superstars like Jayson Tatum and Joel Embiid, TNT’s opening-night double-header averaged 3.3 million viewers, a 17% increase from the 2021-22 season opener and the most average viewers since 2017. Last season, the NBA boasted its best ratings since the 2018-19 season — a 19% boost from an average audience of 1.6 million viewers across the TNT, ABC, and ESPN networks.

But to get a look at the big picture, you need to go beyond just the viewership.

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Engagement is extremely prevalent on NBA Twitter and Instagram, further bolstering the NBA’s case to settle on the desired $75 billion in the next media rights deal in 2025. That said, if the league continues posting big numbers across cable networks and other streaming services, as well as within social apps, there’s a chance it might be able to get that figure even higher with other potential networks/streaming giants jumping into the fold (i.e. Amazon Prime Video, Apple).

Let’s explore how they’re using a tech-savvy audience to eventually land the $75 billion … or potentially more.

Social Media

The league has been using social media as another tool to reach fans and market the game, teams, and players. Personalities are a huge part of what makes the league so popular, in addition to other areas of pop culture the NBA has incorporated — whether it’s the outfits players wear, sneakers they’re rocking, or celebrities in attendance. You name it, and they have it.

That’s why pushing on social and within its NBA App is crucial for growth, especially when it pertains to drawing a younger crowd. On Oct. 13, the official NBA Twitter page surpassed 40 million followers, becoming a top-10 followed brand on the news-blog social platform.

During the 2022 NBA Finals, video plays across NBA social platforms were up 19% from 2021, Instagram Reels hit 716 million plays, and YouTube brought in 88 million video views — a 60% spike from the 2021 NBA Finals.

They’ve carried that momentum into opening night, according to numbers obtained by the NBA. Video views on the new NBA App were up 533% vs. 2021, while NBA social media (and its new app) generated 148 million video views — a new record for opening night video plays. Like the Finals, the NBA’s Instagram account garnered the most video plays among all the various social media platforms they’ve utilized.

Streaming Future?

Streaming giants like Amazon and Apple could give the major cable networks a run for their money. Or they might be able to work with said networks to jump in on the Association’s boom.

More innovative game formats are being incorporated of late, namely play-in games and a speculated midseason tournament that would reportedly begin during the 2023-24 season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Amazon and/or Apple hopped in on that, too. Amazon currently pays the NFL $1 billion to host Thursday Night Football, and Apple signed a $2.5 billion deal to exclusively show all Major League Soccer matches.

The NBA is no stranger to streaming, and it’s only growing — even in local markets.

ClipperVision

How about this one? For the eighth consecutive year, Forbes listed Clippers Governor Steve Ballmer as the richest owner in all of sports with a net worth of $83 billion. Before the season started, Ballmer decided against renewing a deal with cable network Bally Sports and instead, built his own streaming service for the team called “ClipperVision.”

Rather than negotiating a new deal and sharing the network with other LA teams, Ballmer delivered a regional subscription streaming service that offers six channel options for fans to watch their beloved Clips. Will other teams eventually follow suit?

Final Word

The future of the viewership experience for fans is expanding at a rapid pace. And while the NFL is by far the sports king in this area, the NBA is no slouch. Expect the Association to continue boasting new viewership numbers, but perhaps more importantly, take into account how times are changing and how it must continue to change with it.

Television viewership numbers are a good indicator, but they don’t tell the full story, especially when you have a young demographic like the NBA, who is constantly streaming and utilizing social platforms to watch, engage, and communicate among the ever-growing NBA community.

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