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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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ESPN’s Up-and-Down NBA Season Ends With Finals to Forget

  • The network has been criticized for its ad-heavy studio segments.
  • Monday’s broadcast misidentified Celtics player Jrue Holiday’s wife.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As the major networks and streamers are fighting over multibillion-dollar NBA media rights, the ESPN colossus has wrapped up yet another Finals.

The network is reportedly set to maintain its rights to air the Finals through 2036, but the ’24 series was marred by several noticeable hiccups throughout its Finals coverage.

Some were minor, like on Monday night announcer Mike Breen mistakenly identified a random woman in the crowd as Celtics player Jrue Holiday’s wife, for which he later corrected and apologized. (The real Lauren Holiday is a well-known and accomplished professional soccer player.)

ESPN has drawn backlash for its ad-heavy halftime show, with about two total minutes of airtime devoted to the studio crew between extensive commercial breaks in Game 1.

“And from the start of the Finals, there has been a lot of criticism about ESPN’s halftime show, which is not really a halftime show. It’s more 20-second long content nuggets positioned around commercials,” Bryan Curtis of The Ringer said on The Press Box podcast. “It’s like the popcorn shrimp of studio shows.”

The pregame show was also widely panned for its actual content, covering topics from Dan Hurley’s coaching decision to analyst Michael Wilbon saying Tim Hardaway Jr. needed to step up in Game 2, in which he ended up not playing a single second.

All of this comes while the network is drawing some of its lowest Finals viewership in years, despite a slight increase in regular-season viewership. The Mavericks’ one win of the series in Game 4 was the least-watched Finals game in the traditional June slot since 2007, according to Sports Media Watch. (The two COVID-19-affected Finals, which happened in October and July, performed worse.) Friday night’s game came with the Celtics up 3–0 and quickly turned into a Mavericks blowout. Game 1 also rated poorly before a solid Game 2.

The 9.62 million viewers in that game was roughly half what ABC/ESPN drew for its broadcast of the women’s college basketball championship earlier this year.

ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team has dealt with uncertainty all year. The network fired Jeff Van Gundy—who won a ring as a Celtics consultant and is headed to the Clippers as an assistant next season—and Mark Jackson, replacing them with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. But Rivers lasted only a few months, taking over as the Bucks coach in January. He was replaced by JJ Redick, who may end up with a similarly brief tenure in the role if he takes over as the Lakers’ coach.

Whatever ESPN chooses to do next, it has the runway to do long-term planning. Its reported agreements with the NBA run through 2036.

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