Following Viewership Hit During 2020 Finals, NBA Has Best Opening Week Since 2012

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  • The National Basketball Association's opening week was led by the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks Christmas Day contest, which averaged approximately 7 million viewers on Disney's ABC network.

After suffering a ratings decline for its championship series, the National Basketball Association is celebrating its most-watched opening week since 2012, led by Christmas Day contests.

The NBA, which commenced its shortened 72-game season due to Covid-19 last week, said an average of 3.4 million viewers watched its games from Dec. 22 to Dec. 25.

The Christmas Day game between the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers and Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks on Disney's ABC network led the way, averaging roughly 7 million viewers. On the same day, the Miami Heat-New Orleans Pelicans game averaged 3.5 million viewers while the Los Angeles Clippers-Denver Nuggets contest averaged 2.05 million viewers. Those games aired on Disney's ESPN.

Though the 2020 primetime Christmas Day contest on ABC had solid ratings, it still came in lower than last year's Lakers-Clippers contest which had roughly 8.8 million viewers across ABC and ESPN platforms.

According to the NBA, the Dec. 22 opening night doubleheader on AT&T's TNT had an average of 2.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched opening night since 2017.

Those games featured the Golden State Warriors against the Brooklyn Nets and the Clippers versus the Lakers. The NBA said its combined viewership across TNT, ESPN, and ABC for the 2020 openers was up 67% (3.4 million) compared to 2019 when the league NBA averaged 2.2 million for opening week.

The NBA told CNBC viewers watched 81.5 million hours of live NBA coverage on national media partners' outlets. That's up from 41.8 million hours on ESPN and TNT during opening week in 2019.

The NBA is betting on a bounce in ratings after the pandemic impacted its 2020-19 season, forcing it to return to a cluttered sports TV lineup that included Major League Baseball's postseason and World Series and National Football League games. The first game of the 2020 NBA Finals received the lowest ratings since 1994, attracting 7.4 million viewers in part due to the sports clutter.

The WarnerMedia-run NBA TV channel will pick up national games over the next few days, with college football bowl games taking over the sports landscape. ESPN and TNT will return to NBA games starting on Jan 6.

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