National Basketball Association on television

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From left-to-right: an NBA on TNT production staff member; and commentators Mike Fratello, Reggie Miller, and Marv Albert during a broadcast in December 2008

National Basketball Association (NBA) games are televised nationally in the United States, as well as on multiple local channels and regional sports networks.[1] Since the 2002–03 season, broadcast channel ABC, and cable networks ESPN and TNT have nationally televised games. Throughout most of the regular season, ESPN shows doubleheaders on Wednesday and Friday nights, while TNT shows doubleheaders on Tuesday and Thursday nights. In the second half of the season, ABC shows a single game on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. Games are shown almost every night on NBA TV. There are some exceptions to this schedule, including Tip-off Week, Christmas Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. More games may be shown as the end of the regular season approaches, particularly games with playoff significance. During the playoffs, the first round are split between TNT, ESPN, NBA TV, and ABC on mostly weekends the second round are split between ESPN, TNT and ABC on weekends. The conference finals are split between ESPN/ABC and TNT; the two networks alternate which complete series they will carry from year to year. The entire NBA Finals is shown nationally on ABC. The NBA Finals is one of the few sporting events to be shown on a national broadcast network on a weeknight.

Games not televised by its national partners are instead broadcast by local broadcast stations and regional sports networks, televising their respective local team within their respective region. A number of nationally televised games are also non-exclusive, meaning that the national telecasts may also air in tandem with those of the game by local broadcasters.

With the Toronto Raptors being the only NBA team in Canada, TV rights differ in that country. Games exclusively televised south of the border by ABC, ESPN, TNT, and NBA TV may be simulcast by a Canadian network, but all contests involving the Raptors are non-exclusive north of the border.

In addition to the English-language television broadcasts, select NBA games also have Spanish-language broadcasts since 2002.[2][3]


As one of the major sports leagues in North America, the National Basketball Association has a long history of partnership with television networks in the US. The league signed a contract with DuMont in its 8th season (1953–54), marking the first year the NBA had a national television broadcaster. Similar to NFL, the lack of television stations led to NBC taking over the rights beginning the very next season until April 7, 1962—NBC's first tenure with the NBA. After the deal expired, Sports Network Incorporated (later known as the Hughes Television Network) signed up for two-year coverage in the 1962–63, 1963–64 season.

ABC gained the NBA in 1964, the network aired its first NBA game on January 3, 1965, but lost the broadcast rights to CBS after the 1972–73 season with the initial tenure ending on May 10, 1973. Up until the 1970-71 season, ABC often aired NBA games as segments of its popular ABC's Wide World of Sports anthology series rather than standalone broadcasts.

As the national broadcaster of the NBA, CBS aired NBA games from the 1973-74 until the 1989–90 season, during which the late 1970s and early 1980s was notoriously known as the "tape delay playoff era." Ratings sagged in the late Seventies with a series of fairly undistinguished championship teams from relatively small markets, widespread public perceptions of drug usage among players, and a relative lack of marquee players. Even a merger with the American Basketball Association in 1976, bringing several standout players including Julius Erving into the league, did not reverse the ratings slide. CBS, not wishing to preempt higher-rated regular programming for the relatively low-rated pro basketball, elected to show several playoff games each season tape-delayed into late-night time slots. This situation dramatically improved with the arrival of Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird for the 1979-80 season. By the arrival of Michael Jordan in 1984, tape-delayed games were well in the past.

NBC then assumed the broadcast rights from 1990 to 2002.[4] During NBC's partnership with the NBA in the 1990s, the league rose to unprecedented popularity, with ratings surpassing the days of Johnson and Bird in the mid 1980s. Upon expiration of the contract in 2002, the league signed an agreement with ABC, which began airing games in the 2002-03 season. NBC had made a four-year $1.3 billion ($330 million/year) bid in the spring of 2002 to renew its NBA rights, but the league instead went to ESPN and ABC with a six-year deal worth $2.4 billion ($400 million/year), a total of $4.6 billion ($766 million/year) when adding the cable deal with Turner Sports.[5] Partially due to the retirement of Michael Jordan, the league suffered a ratings decline after ESPN and ABC took over the rights. The NBA extended its national TV package on June 27, 2007 worth eight-year $7.4 billion ($930 million/year) through the 2015–16 season,[5] during which the league had its new resurgence leading by a renewed Celtics–Lakers rivalry and LeBron James. On October 6, 2014, NBA announced a nine-year $24 billion ($2.7 billion/year) extension with ESPN, ABC and Turner Sports beginning with the 2016–17 season and running through the 2024–25 season[6] - the second most expensive media rights in the world after NFL and on a par with Premier League in annual rights fee from 2016–17 to 2018–19 season.[7]

NBA entered the cable territory in 1979 when USA Network signed a three-year $1.5 million deal and extended for two years until the 1983-84 season, ESPN also had a brief affair with NBA from 1982 to 1984. Turner Sports obtained rights to air NBA games beginning with the 1984-85 season (replacing ESPN and USA Network as national cable partners) under a four-year deal, in which TBS shared the NBA television package along with CBS. In the summer of 1987, Turner Broadcasting System signed a new joint broadcast contract between TBS and TNT to split broadcast NBA games starting from the 1988-89 season. TNT held rights to broadcast the NBA draft, most NBA regular season and playoff games, while TBS only aired single games or doubleheaders once a week. The 2001-02 season would mark the final year of regular NBA coverage on TBS, Turner Sports signed a new NBA television contract in which TNT would assume rights to the company's NBA package while TBS would discontinue game coverage altogether. In recent years however, TBS has served as an overflow feed during the playoffs while also simulcasting the 2015, 2016, and 2017 NBA All-Star Game. Subsequently ESPN regained the NBA in 2002-03 season and took over TBS's half of cable television rights.

Regular season[edit]


Average rating per regular season game on broadcast networks
Season Network Rating
2021–22 ABC 1.6
2020–21 ABC 1.5
2019–20 ABC 1.8
2018–19 ABC 2.2
2017–18 ABC 2.2
2016–17 ABC 1.9
2015–16 ABC 2.3
2014–15 ABC 2.2
2013–14 ABC 2.3
2012–13 ABC 2.9
2011–12 (Lockout Shortened) ABC 3.3
2010–11 ABC 3.2
2009–10 ABC 2.3
2008–09 ABC 2.3
2007–08 ABC 2.2
2006–07 ABC 2.0
2005–06 ABC 2.2
2004–05 ABC 2.3
2003–04 ABC 2.4
2002–03 ABC 2.6
2001–02 NBC 2.9
2000–01 NBC 3.0
1999–2000 NBC 3.3
1998–99 (lockout shortened) NBC 4.3
1997–98 NBC 5.5
1996–97 NBC 4.9
1995–96 NBC 5.3
1994–95 NBC 5.2
1993–94 NBC 4.6
1992–93 NBC 5.0
1991–92 NBC 4.8
1990–91 NBC 4.7
1989–90 CBS 5.2
Average viewership per regular season game in millions by networks
2017–18 3.82M 1.74M 1.63M 0.31M
2016–17 3.27M 1.54M 1.57M 0.31M
2015–16 3.93M 1.68M 1.65M 0.35M
2014–15 3.59M 1.67M 1.50M 0.29M
2013–14 3.58M 1.90M 1.68M 0.32M
2012–13 4.70M 2.00M 1.77M 0.34M
2011–12 (lockout shortened) 5.42M 2.50M 1.86M 0.34M
2010–11 5.11M 2.40M 1.99M 0.25M
2009–10 3.69M 1.72M 1.56M ---
2008–09 3.68M 1.71M 1.68M ---
2007–08 3.18M 1.47M 1.47M ---

NBA playoffs[edit]

Ever since NBC lost the rights, the Conference Finals have been on cable networks almost exclusively with TNT and ESPN alternating coverage each year.

Most watched NBA playoff games on cable networks
Year Network Game Rating Viewership
2016 TNT Oklahoma City Thunder vs Golden State Warriors WCF Game 7 8.9 16.00M
2012 ESPN Boston Celtics vs Miami Heat ECF Game 7 7.7 13.35M
2013 TNT Indiana Pacers vs Miami Heat ECF Game 7 7.1 11.57M
2011 TNT Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls ECF Game 1 6.2 11.11M
2012 ESPN Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics ECF Game 6 6.8 11.07M
2012 ESPN Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics ECF Game 4 6.8 11.07M
2011 TNT Chicago Bulls vs Miami Heat ECF Game 3 6.4 10.89M
2016 TNT Golden State Warriors vs Oklahoma City Thunder WCF Game 6 6.2 10.81M
2011 TNT Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls ECF Game 5 6.4 10.41M
2012 ESPN Boston Celtics vs Miami Heat ECF Game 5 6.3 10.25M

NBA Finals[edit]

Most watched NBA Final games on ABC
Year Game Rating/Share Viewership
2016 Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors Game 7 15.8/29 31.02M
2010 Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers Game 7 15.6/27 28.20M
2013 San Antonio Spurs vs Miami Heat Game 7 15.3/26 26.32M
2017 Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors Game 5 13.5/25 24.47M
2011 Dallas Mavericks vs Miami Heat Game 6 13.3/23 23.88M
2015 Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers Game 6 13.4/24 23.25M
2004 Los Angeles Lakers vs Detroit Pistons Game 5 13.8/23 21.84M
2015 Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors Game 5 11.8/21 20.86M
2016 Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers Game 6 11.8/22 20.70M
2013 San Antonio Spurs vs Miami Heat Game 6 12.3/21 20.64M

Single games[edit]

NBA on Christmas Day[edit]

Games on Christmas Day have drawn some of the biggest regular season audience. Since 2001, the most watched Christmas games were:

2004 Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers on ABC averaged a 7.3 rating and 13.18 million viewers.

2010 Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers on ABC averaged a 6.4 rating and 13.11 million viewers.

2015 Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors on ABC averaged a 5.7 rating and 11.12 million viewers.

Average rating/viewership per game for NBA on Christmas Day
Year Network Games Rating Viewership
2019 ABC, ESPN 5 5.67M
2018 ABC, ESPN 5 5.81M
2017 ABC, ESPN, TNT 5 2.6 5.10M
2016 ABC, ESPN 5 2.3 4.56M
2015 ABC, ESPN 5 3.0 5.55M
2014 ABC, ESPN, TNT 5 2.8 5.22M
2013 ABC, ESPN 5 2.5 4.46M
2012 ABC, ESPN 5 3.1 5.50M
2011 (lockout shortened) Cancelled due to a 2011-12 NBA lockout
2010 ABC, ESPN 5 3.2 6.00M
2009 ABC, ESPN 5 2.4 4.17M
2008 ABC, ESPN, TNT 5 2.5 4.43M
2007 ABC, ESPN 3 2.6 4.29M
2006 ABC 1 3.5 5.47M
2005 ABC 2 4.4 7.12M
2004 ABC, ESPN 2 5.2 8.92M
2003 ABC, ESPN 3 3.0 4.96M
2002 ABC, ESPN 3 2.8 4.52M
2001 NBC 2 3.2 4.99M

NBA All-Star Game[edit]

The NBA All-Star Game was on broadcast networks until 2002, TNT began airing the All-Star Game in 2003 which featured the last appearance of Michael Jordan in the event, TBS started simulcasting the game since 2015.

NBA All-Star Game TV ratings
Year Network Results Rating/Share Viewership
2019 TNT, TBS Team LeBron 178, Team Giannis 164 3.8 6.80M
2018 TNT, TBS Team LeBron 148, Team Stephen 145 4.3 7.65M
2017 TNT, TBS West 192, East 182 4.2/7 7.75M
2016 TNT, TBS West 196, East 173 4.3/7 7.61M
2015 TNT, TBS West 163, East 158 4.3/7 7.18M
2014 TNT East 163, West 155 4.3/7 7.51M
2013 TNT West 143, East 138 4.6/8 8.02M
2012 TNT West 152, East 149 4.4/7 7.07M
2011 TNT West 148, East 143 5.2/9 9.09M
2010 TNT East 141, West 139 3.8/6 6.85M
2009 TNT West 146, East 119 4.5/7 7.62M
2008 TNT East 134, West 128 3.8/6 6.33M
2007 TNT West 153, East 132 4.2/7 6.84M
2006 TNT East 122, West 120 4.3/8 7.07M
2005 TNT East 125, West 115 4.9/8 8.08M
2004 TNT West 136, East 132 5.1/10 8.19M
2003 TNT West 155, East 145 6.6/12 10.83M
2002 NBC West 135, East 120 8.2/15 13.10M
2001 NBC East 111, West 110 5.1/8 7.76M
2000 NBC West 137, East 126 6.9/12 10.52M
1999 Cancelled due to owners' Lockout
1998 NBC East 135, West 114 10.6/17 16.93M
1997 NBC East 132, West 120 11.2/19 16.90M
1996 NBC East 129, West 118 11.7/20 17.46M
1995 NBC West 139, East 112 10.7/17 15.78M
1994 NBC East 127, West 118 9.1/14 13.67M
1993 NBC West 135, East 132 14.3/22 22.91M
1992 NBC West 153, East 113 12.8/26 18.83M
1991 NBC East 116, West 113 7.8/21 10.61M
1990 CBS East 130, West 113 9.5/13 13.20M

Regional and Canadian broadcasters[edit]

NBA games not televised by its national partners are instead broadcast by local broadcast stations and regional sports networks, televising their respective local team within their respective region. Regionally broadcast games are subject to blackouts, and those games from outside of a viewer's designated market are blacked out to protect the local team.

Certain national telecasts on ESPN, NBA TV and TNT, such as selected regular season matches and first round playoff games, are non-exclusive, and may also air in tandem with telecasts of the game by local broadcasters. However, national telecasts of these games are blacked out in the participating teams' markets to protect the local broadcaster.

As the only team in Canada, the rights to the Toronto Raptors are a special case. Raptors games are split between the national Canadian networks Sportsnet and TSN. The two networks may also simulcast ESPN, NBA TV and TNT televised games, including postseason contests. But all of these U.S. national feeds have been treated as non-exclusive in Canada if they involve the Raptors, inducing the 2019 NBA Finals, allowing the Raptors regional telecast to air in tandem with the U.S. national broadcast.[9][10]

Most NBA regional broadcasters are members of national chains:

Regional network Teams(s)
Altitude Sports Denver
AT&T SportsNet
(incl. Root Sports)
Houston, Portland, Utah
Bally Sports
Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas, Indiana, LA Clippers, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Phoenix, San Antonio
NBC Sports Regional Networks Boston, Chicago, Golden State, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Washington
MSG New York
Spectrum Sports LA Lakers
Sportsnet and TSN
(shared rights)
Yes Network Brooklyn

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sarmento, Mario R. "The NBA on Network Television: Historical Analysis".
  2. ^ NBA Finals 2002 to be broadcast on TV, radio, Internet - NBA, 29 May 2002
  3. ^ Telemundo to Air NBA en Español - R. Thomas Umstead, Multichannel, 25 August 2002
  4. ^ "NBC Celebrates 12 Years of NBA on NBC". NBC Sports History Page.
  5. ^ a b John Lombardo & John Ourand (October 13, 2014). "Fast break: NBA media rights". SportsBusiness Daily. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  6. ^ Paulsen (October 6, 2014). "NBA Announces 9-Year Extension With ESPN, Turner, Through 2025". Sports Media Watch. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  7. ^ BBC Sports (February 10, 2015). "Premier League TV rights: Sky and BT pay £5.1bn for live games". BBC Sport. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  8. ^ Deseret News (1993-05-01). "NEW NBA-NBC DEAL IS GROUNDBREAKING". Deseret News. Retrieved 2021-08-08.
  9. ^ Zelkovich, Chris (June 16, 2010). "Sportsnet back in the game with Raptors". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on June 19, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  10. ^ Dachman, Jason (June 5, 2019). "NBA Finals 2019: As Raptors Fever Takes Over Canada, MLSE Serves Up Game Coverage on Sportsnet, TSN". Sports Video Group. Retrieved June 8, 2019.

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