Soaring NBA Finals For ABC: How Can A Network Get The Most Out Of A Big Sporting Event?

ABC grabbed great fortune with the entertaining NBA Finals: intense drama around high-profile players, overall closely fought games, and soaring TV ratings. But is that enough?

ABC posted a Nielsen total viewer average of 19.9 million for the six-game series in which the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2. These results were a big, 30% improvement over the NBA Finals in 2014, when San Antonio beat Miami. Game six of the NBA Finals this year delivered the highest total viewer audience of the entire series: 23,254,000 viewers.

A year ago, ABC pulled in $517,000 for a 30-second commercial in the NBA Finals, according to Kantar Media. Overall this year ABC pulled in $224 million in advertising sales for the NBA Finals, according to ABC also did well in some great TV promotion for ABC and Disney assets, including ABC Family and ABC summer TV programs.  Too bad the latter promotions couldn’t be for ABC’s more-important new fall shows.



That’s where the likes of the NFL can do wonders for NBC and CBS on Sundays, ESPN on Mondays, and more recently CBS on Thursday nights. Those networks can promote a lot of costly scripted prime-time shows, that can be seen just days after the promo airs.

CBS would also tell you it gained not only extra advertising revenues on Thursday night with high-rated NFL programming  -- but in the ability to cut back on lesser rated/valued non-sports, fourth quarter inventory.

Now, to be sure, regular season NFL games aren’t regular season NBA games, which don't score as well in TV ratings. But playoffs for all major TV sports franchises can do extremely well.

That said, ABC -- without any big sports programming in the current season -- still performed incredibly well versus other networks for its original programming. For example, it was only down 3% in total day C3 (commercial ratings plus three days of time shifting) 18-49 viewers, to 1.1 million, the least erosion of the big four networks.

Promoting new TV shows continues to be harder because of generally lower ratings. It seems networks will need to retain big sporting events to pull in viewers and give marketers the greatest impact.

This post was previously published in a prior edition of TV Watch.

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