If the NBA had any worries about how the two-month work stoppage would affect TV ratings, those concerns are long gone. Ratings are up substantially on all networks. And in Oklahoma City, ratings for local Thunder telecasts are nearly double last season.
The 1998-99 NBA lockout cut into TV ratings that season and for seasons to follow. But the work stoppage was much longer than this season and the 50-game season didn't begin until Feb. 5, apparently souring some fans on the sport. NBC's regular-season ratings were down 7 percent and ratings for the Spurs-Knicks finals series slumped 40 percent from the previous season.
This season is a different story. The shortened 66-game season, which debuted on Christmas Day, has been a hit with the viewers.
— ESPN's ratings (a percentage of TV homes) are up 31 percent (1.7), households are up 27 percent (1,648,000) and viewers are up 20 percent (2,116,000) when compared Christmas-to-date with last season, according to Nielsen.
— ABC's ratings are up 18 percent (4.7), households are up 16 percent (5,347,000) and viewers are up 18 percent (8,515,000).
— TNT's ratings are up 29 percent (1.8), households are up 34 percent (2,116,000) and viewers are up 36 percent (2,839,000).
— NBA TV does not release ratings information, but viewership is up 57 percent (371,000) and households are up 60 percent (290,000) for 42 games.
In gaining 3.3 million households, NBA TV showed the largest growth of any cable network since the start of the year and now reaches 59 million homes. The Thunder-Warriors telecast Tuesday night delivered 434,000 viewers, 20 percent above average.
However, those ratings increases pale to the growth in the Thunder's local telecasts on Fox Sports Oklahoma. The team's 6.0 average rating is up 82 percent from the same period last season (3.3).
In missing November and most of December, the Thunder lost its two lowest-rated months from previous seasons when it competes with college football. The Thunder still trails the San Antonio Spurs, which average 7.9, among NBA teams in Texas and Oklahoma.
“We are honored and never surprised at the passion and loyalty of Thunder fans,” said Dan Mahoney, Thunder vice president of corporate communications and community relations. “We are pleased to see that more of our fans are enjoying our games on Fox Sports Oklahoma.”
FSOK's franchise-high 8.8 rating came during the late Jan. 30 telecast against the Clippers, which included Blake Griffin's monster dunk over Kendrick Perkins. Many Thunder fans are staying up late for the West Coast games as FSOK is averaging 6.9 for games at 9 p.m. or later.
The two TNT telecasts have produced huge local ratings, including a team-high 10.5 at Boston on Jan. 16 and 10.0 against visiting Dallas on Dec. 29.
The Christmas night game against Orlando produced a team-high 8.3 ESPN rating.
The Thunder's regular-season record of 11.1 came against Miami on ABC last season. That rating might be surpassed during the March 25 game against visiting Miami on ESPN or Sunday afternoon ABC appearances against visiting Chicago on April 1 and at the Los Angeles Lakers on April 22.
Local TV ratings from NBA teams in Texas and Oklahoma:
1. San Antonio Spurs, Fox Sports Southwest, 7.9.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder, Fox Sports Oklahoma, 6.0.
3. Dallas Mavericks, Fox Sports Southwest, 2.7.
4. Houston Rockets, Fox Sports Houston, 1.6.