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Monday, May 20, 2024

The Star-Studded NBA Play-In a Potential Ratings Boon for ESPN, TNT

  • The initial portion of the NBA postseason features three former MVPs.
  • ESPN and TNT eye ratings boosts to extend the viewership bump registered last year.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The stars are definitely out for the NBA’s Play-In Tournament, even if they don’t necessarily want to be there, but ESPN and TNT certainly aren’t complaining.  

Now in the fourth iteration of its current format, the entry point for the NBA playoffs features three former league Most Valuable Players in the Lakers’ LeBron James (above, left), the Warriors’ Stephen Curry (above, right), and the 76ers’ Joel Embiid—in addition to a vast collection of other high-profile stars such as the Heat’s Jimmy Butler, the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson, and the Lakers’ Anthony Davis. The Play-In Tournament will start Tuesday with Western Conference games and conclude Friday. 

Potential Spike

That high-level of star power for this initial stage of the postseason could provide the NBA and its national media rightsholders, ESPN and TNT, a sizable boost entering the rest of the playoffs, which begin Saturday. Last year’s six total Play-In Tournament games (on the two networks) averaged 2.64 million viewers, up 5% from 2022, and an additional spike is certainly possible given the players and teams involved.

The Play-In Tournament is far from the preferred scenario for the involved teams, as for the No. 9 and 10 seeds in each conference in particular a single loss will eliminate those teams from the rest of the playoffs. But it also beats missing the playoffs entirely, which for several of the involved franchises was a very real possibility in the final weeks of the regular season. 

“For us to end the season 12 games over .500—13 if you count the championship in the In-Season Tournament—I mean, with everything we’ve been through, that’s a pretty good season for us,” James said.

Added Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “We’re happy to have a shot.” 

Dream Scenario

The Lakers and Warriors could potentially meet in a rematch of last year’s high-profile Western Conference playoff semifinals. That would require the Lakers, the No. 8 seed, losing to the No. 7 Pelicans in New Orleans, and then the No. 10 Warriors upsetting the No. 9 Kings on the road. But that matchup would again bring together two of the league’s foremost personalities in James and Curry. A Lakers-Warriors play-in game in 2021 remains the viewership standard-bearer for an individual game in this part of the postseason, averaging 5.62 million viewers.

“The chess game has been ignited and we’re all for it,” said Lakers coach Darvin Ham. Los Angeles’s game against the Pelicans tomorrow will be a repeat of a Sunday game that solidified the Lakers at the No. 8 seed. 

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