On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers will play their 14th national TV game of the season. They’ll play two more national TV games before the first half of their regular season schedule ends, bringing their total up to 16, which is more than any other team will play in the first half of the season. That’s not including the seven games they’ve played on NBA TV this season.
The second half of the season will be more of the same for the Lakers in that regard. On Wednesday, it was revealed the reigning champions will play on national television 15 times in the second half of the season, with three games on ABC, six games on ESPN and six games on TNT. They’ll also play six times on NBA TV. In total, they’ll have played 31 national TV games by the end of the season. That’s nearly half of their 72-game schedule.
When you consider the Lakers’ global brand, the size of the Los Angeles market, the presence of LeBron James and the fact that they’re the reigning NBA champions, I guess that shouldn’t come as some big surprise. The good news for the league’s broadcasting partners, though, is that fans are tuning into watch the games.
According to Ethan Strauss of The Athletic, the Lakers’ average national TV viewership is over 100,000 higher than any other team at 1.5 million viewers. The Clippers are second at 1.39 million.
In the context of this season, that’s great for the Lakers. In a historical context, though, that’s low for a LeBron-led team, as Strauss notes in his story:
This is a tough one to parse, but there’s a fair argument that the Lakers should be doing bigger numbers, even if they are safely at the top. We’re less than a decade removed from the average of all NBA cable games garnering over 2 million viewers. Yes, these are different times, but we’re talking MVP-level LeBron, Lakers and title aspirations here. They are dominant in viewership, but not nearly on the level of those old Big Three Miami Heat teams.
We won’t speculate why viewership is down because, honestly, who cares? The only person I think about when watching a game is me and maybe the people I’m watching it with — maybe.
I will say from personal experience, though, that watching national TV games has been a struggle more often than not in recent years because some cable providers, including Frontier, black out national TV games even if they don’t carry Spectrum SportsNet. It’s nonsensical. Like, imagine going to a restaurant, asking for Coke, being told they only have Pepsi, and then getting denied Pepsi because other restaurants in your area have Coke. Just give me the damn Pepsi!
Anyway, the Lakers should see in uptick in their viewership when the postseason rolls around because their opponents are shaping up to be stronger than they were last season, and they won’t be playing in a bubble. And if the ratings aren’t better, well then they’ll just have to persevere somehow.