Ja Morant № 12 of the Memphis Grizzlies rides to the basket to score a goal against the Golden State Warriors in the second half of the third game of the NBA Western Playoff Conference semifinals at the Chase Center on May 7, 2022 in San Francisco, California.

Theoron W. Henderson | Getty Images

The NBA is in a strong position as it emerges from the pandemic and prepares for the next cycle of media rights in the next few years. The playoffs increased without much involvement of teams in the huge markets of New York and Los Angeles. The league’s biggest star, LeBron James, is also not in the playoffs.

Viewers are set to watch the Golden State Warriors, who have returned to the title fight after missing the playoffs last year. The Boston Celtics are also attracting big numbers as the legendary franchise seems to add an 18th title banner to its rafters arena. Young electric stars Ja Morant and Luka Doncic also helped restore the NBA playoffs rankings after a two-year decline caused by the pandemic.

“The NBA is no longer dependent on one or two teams,” said longtime sports media manager Neil Pilson. “They are no longer dependent on major market teams. It’s a testament to strength.”

The NBA conference finale began earlier this week on Warner Bros. Discovery Turner Sports and the ABC and ESPN networks owned by Disney. As a result of the early final matches of the conference after the seasonal games, an average of 3.7 million spectators attend the networks, which is 14% more than in 2021.

More than 6 million watched the game of one of the final matches of the 2022 Western Conference between the Warriors and the Dallas Mavericks. And ESPN also reported that about 6 million viewers watched the first and second games of the Celtics-Miami Heat series. The NBA uses Nielsen’s metrics for its viewing statistics.

The NBA’s $ 24 billion deal with ESPN and Turner ends after the 2024-25 election campaign. Speculation about whether the NBA will use streaming services in the next round of deals.

The league will have a strong hand to play largely because of its young stars.

Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, pointed to the NBA’s team balance and the promotion of young stars as the reason fans are showing interest. He said Morant of Memphis Grizzlies and Doncic of Dallas put the NBA in a “healthy position” for a lucrative rights deal.

The popularity of 22-year-old Maranta helped the Memphis Grizzlies achieve the most popular playoff series in history. The series “Grizzlies” against “Warriors” gained an average of 5.9 million viewers in six games. This included 7.7 million viewers who watched the first game – the game with the highest rating in the playoffs to date.

Marant missed the last three games of the series due to injury. But he is expected to return next season, so expect national networks to show more Grizzly games.

Luke Doncic № 77 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball during the 1st game of the 2022 Western NBA Western Conference playoff finals on May 18, 2022 at the Chase Center in San Francisco, California.

Noah Graham NBA | Getty Images

The 23-year-old Doncic led Maurice to victory in seven games over the Phoenix Suns, which topped the table. This game averaged 6.3 million viewers and became the fifth most viewed in the playoffs this year.

“You can put Memphis and Dallas and get an audience,” Pilson said, adding that the NBA is independent of the Lakers and, of course, independent of the Knicks.

However, the league will be tested during the NBA Finals in June.

The NBA Finals averaged 9.9 million viewers in 2021, when the Milwaukee Bucks and their superstar Janice Atetakunmpa defeated the Suns. That’s more than an average of 7.5 million spectators in the 2020 NBA Finals, where James, now 37, and the Lakers played in front of an empty arena in Orlando Kovid’s bubble. But that’s also much less compared to the 15.1 million viewers who watched the 2019 NBA Finals featuring the Warriors and Toronto Raptors.

Of the other teams, the Heat-Mavs finale may not attract the most viewers, like the Celtics-Worriors or Celtics-Mavs series. But Pilson said the rest of the players, including Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, would still be enough to attract a significant audience. The profile of Jason Tatum, the 24-year-old Celtics star, has also grown this postseason.

“Today there are more NBA teams that can support the finals in terms of athletes and rankings than 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s a beach property – the sport drives the television economy. That’s why fees for rights are expensive, and sponsors have to pay the biggest money.”

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the first quarter of Miami foul forward Heath PJ Tucker (17). The Miami Heat hosts the Boston Celtics during the 2nd NBA Eastern Conference Finals game at the FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, May 19, 2022.

Matthew J. Lee | Boston Globe Getty Images

At a meeting of the NBA’s board of directors in April in New York, League Commissioner Adam Silver said it was “premature” to consider joining new partners in the next rights deal, he said the NBA is closely monitoring the rights market – especially while the technology hippopotamus Apple. now spends on showing sports games on its Apple TV + service.

“The discussions we are having now are more about forecasts and where the media market is heading,” Silver said. “I think we will continue to see the conversion of many of these rights that have historically been on traditional services to streaming services. And, frankly, consumers are coming too. ”

But how the NBA combines these rights remains in the air. Apple was interested in entering the sports media business when it struck a deal this spring to acquire MLB rights. Amazon is already working with the NBA as it broadcasts WNBA games.

“I think that’s where the media is moving in this direction,” Silver said. “People want personalization. They want settings. ”

Streaming platforms, he added, offer sports enthusiasts “flexibility and attributes that you may not find through regular, satellite and cable delivery”.

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