TNT, ESPN/ABC Draw Record NBA Ratings

Big audiences also mean record revenue for league's TV partners

Already in place are a series of custom spots for Gatorade and a pair of studio promotions for Walt Disney Pictures’ Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides , as well as 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: First Class. Official NBA sponsors Budweiser and T-Mobile have also opted in for branded segments, with the beer manufacturer presenting the starting lineups and the telco branding the halftime show.

T-Mobile is also backing TNT’s “Ask Charles” segment, in which a fan can text a personal query to the Round Mound of Rebound himself. On Sunday night, Turner seemingly squeezed in another brand; a question about how often Barkley shaved his dome was answered with a pitch for the Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor.

Along with the spike one might anticipate following a torrid regular-season campaign, TNT’s playoff deliveries have been goosed by a new promotional platform: This spring marked Turner’s first go-round with CBS as a co-host of the NCAA’s March Madness tourney; as such, TNT never let college hoop fans forget it also had their ticket to the NBA tournament.

Another stroke of luck for TNT and ESPN/ABC Sports: this year’s playoffs mark the first time since 1990 that all five of the top markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas) will be represented in the post-season. Add hoops-crazed Boston, Indianapolis, and Miami to the mix and the playoff picture gets all the more frenzied. 

Thus far, the Disney team has put on quite a show. Through its 15-game regular-season slate, ABC boasted its biggest NBA numbers since it reacquired the rights to the league in 2002, averaging 5.11 million viewers. This season also ranks as the most-watched on broadcast TV since the 1998-89 campaign, when NBC served up 5.6 million viewers per game.

For its part, ESPN served up an historic high 2.03 million viewers over 77 games, up 29 percent from a year ago.