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NBA In-Season Tournament Debut Averages 1.7M Viewers

  • Knicks vs. Bucks averaged 1.644 million viewers, while the late game of the doubleheader (Mavericks vs. Nuggets) averaged 1.796 million viewers.
  • The IST’s viewership could end up being a crucial bargaining chip as the NBA comes up on historic media rights negotiations.
General view of Ball Arena during the first quarter of the In-Season Tournament game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA’s In-Season Tournament experiment got off to a solid — if unspectacular — start in terms of television viewership.

ESPN’s presentation of the first-ever In-Season Tournament game between the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks averaged 1.644 million viewers, while the late game of the doubleheader between the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets averaged 1.796 million viewers, per SportsTVRatings.

The combined viewership equates to 1.716 million average viewers — a 35% increase from ESPN’s Friday NBA coverage in November 2022, according to ESPN’s Ben Cafardo. It was also a 32% increase over the average Friday NBA game’s viewership from the entire last season.

For all the curiosity and hype surrounding the tournament — which has included a bump in ticket sales — the IST’s initial viewership wasn’t able to match up with the traditional start of the season. 

TNT’s first two games on Opening Night averaged 2.8 million and 2.7 million viewers. The next night, ESPN notched 2.55 million average viewers for the Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, and a huge 2.99 million viewers for Victor Wembanyama’s NBA debut in the San Antonio Spurs vs. Mavericks game. 

That combined average audience of 2.76 million viewers was ESPN’s most-watched NBA opening day in 11 years and the second-most-watched on record for the Disney-owned behemoth.

As the In-Season Tournament approaches its Championship on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas, its viewership could end up being a crucial bargaining chip as the NBA comes up on historic media rights negotiations; Front Office Sports reported in July that the tournament’s media rights will be up for grabs between ABC/ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT.

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