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Sunday, July 14, 2024

‘WembyMania’ Pulls 2nd Most-Watched Summer League Telecast

  • Victor Wembanyama’s Summer League debut draws 1.39M viewers.
  • Ranks second only to Zion Williamson's debut in 2019.
Victor Wembanyama
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

No wonder the NBA and its national TV partners are salivating over potential TV ratings for Victor Wembanyama.

The young San Antonio Spurs rookie’s debut garnered the second-biggest television audience ever for a Summer League game on Friday night.

ESPN’s coverage of Wembanyama’s game against the Charlotte Hornets in Las Vegas averaged 1,386,000 viewers, peaking at 1,632,000.

That ranks second only to the 1,641,000 viewers for Zion Williamson’s Summer League debut in 2019. 

But Williamson had a year of U.S. media hype under his belt after his freshman year at Duke University. 

The 19-year Wembanyama, on the other hand, spent last year playing in France before being selected No. 1 overall in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Wembanyama helped drive the most-watched opening weekend ever for the NBA Summer League, with the 12 games averaging 456,000 viewers across ESPN platforms.

The rise of Wembanyama comes at the right time for the NBA. 

American stars such as LeBron James and Steph Curry are entering the twilight of their careers.

The increasingly global league (think Serbian NBA champion Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets) is poised to tip off billion-dollar media rights negotiations with The Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and Warner Bros Discovery Sports’ TNT.

If those two incumbent media partners can’t renew their deal during an exclusive negotiating period, then Commissioner Adam Silver’s NBA could throw open the bidding to deep-pocketed tech giants like Amazon Prime Video, Apple, and Google/YouTube. 

Either way, expect the NBA to split off a separate streaming package ala the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” deal with Amazon.

Just like the rise of Houston Rockets center Yao Ming helped open the Chinese market to the NBA, Wembanyama could help popularize pro hoops in France, a country of 68 million people.

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