NBA’s Ratings Won’t Hurt Sales

NEW YORK Despite stagnant national ratings for the National Basketball Association’s regular season, the rights holder networks (ABC, ESPN, TNT) said ad sales for the approaching playoffs are pacing ahead of last year. The networks would not disclose playoff sellout levels, but media buyers said sales are likely robust, given that the playoffs draw more viewers and there are fewer big-event sports gross rating points in second quarter than in first.

NBA ratings on ABC, through 14 regular-season windows, are averaging 2.9 million viewers, 300,000 less than 2006. And the telecasts have dropped in key male demos: among men 18-34, they’re down to 1.5 from 1.6; among men 18-49. 1.5 from 1.7; and men 25-54, down to 1.5 from 1.8.

An ABC Sports representative noted that if the Christmas Day telecast (ABC’s first of the season) is factored out, the ratings are largely flat versus last year. On ESPN, regular-season household ratings are flat among total viewers at 1.3 million through 62 windows, with ratings for men 18-34 and men 18-49 down slightly.

TNT has seen the biggest falloff this season. TNT’s total viewers are down 180,000 per telecast to 1.3 million, while declines in male demos range from 8 to 19 percent. TNT’s explanation is that competition on Thursdays is heavier than ever. “The landscape on Thursday night has changed so much since we first started televising games,” said Trish Frohman, executive vp of Turner Sports ad sales.

Frohman also noted that a big chunk of advertisers buy both regular season and playoffs as part of packages. Among new advertisers, Frohman said she’s getting business from insurance, car rental and consumer electronics categories in the post-season.

Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports customer marketing and sales, said in addition to those categories, movie companies have also been active in buying NBA post-season.