The NBA Play-In game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors on May 19 was the most-watched NBA game on ESPN since the 2019 Western Conference Finals. According to Deadline, the star-studded match-up featuring LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Anthony Davis had an average of 5.62 million viewers. The viewership peaked at 6.15 million viewers at 12:30-1 a.m.
This is a good sign for Disney’s marquee sports network as NBA ratings have been rocky since the 2020 NBA Bubble. According to Reuters, Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals on ABC has record-low viewership, down 45% from 2019’s Game 1. The average network TV game for 2020-2021 (2.66 million viewers) was down 10 percent from last season’s all-time low of 2.95 million, according to The Athletic.
ESPN will host a bevy of games throughout the 2021 NBA Playoffs and with tens of thousands of fans piling back into arenas, excitement is being restored to the sport.
Disney recently signed an 11-year deal with the National Football League, the most popular league in America. They will pay $2.7 billion annually to host games of ABC and ESPN. The new deal features their famous Monday Night Football broadcast, two Saturday games in Week 18, and will host the 2026 and 2030 Super Bowls on ABC.
Disney’s current deal with the NBA will expire after the 2024-25 season. Early reports say that the NBA may be seeking a $75 billion rights package between all of its networks. Disney and WarnerMedia currently partner with the NBA for their national coverage. New deals may include streaming rights to ESPN+ as more and more viewers continue to cut cable.