NBA Returns to Strong Ratings on TNT

The league's quarantined restart brings in TV numbers well above the pre-shutdown average.
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Add the NBA to the list of sports leagues that have put up strong TV numbers with their return to competition. 

The first pro basketball games in the United States since mid-March averaged 2.73 million viewers on TNT Thursday night, led by a marquee matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. Digital platform viewing pushed the total audience to 2.9 million, according to Turner Sports.

That figure is more than double the average viewership for an NBA game on the league's national broadcast partners this season (TNT, ESPN, ABC and NBA TV). Thursday's games didn't represent season highs for the league, however, in the way that the start of the baseball season did a week earlier — when a New York Yankees-Washington Nationals telecast drew ESPN's largest opening-night audience ever.

The NBA has 22 of its 30 teams quarantined at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, where each will play eight games to determine playoff seeding before the postseason begins. The league has thus far avoided any coronavirus outbreaks since players, coaches and staff arrived in the Orlando bubble in mid-July — unlike Major League Baseball, which has seen multiple cases on several teams so far.

The Clippers-Lakers game averaged 3.35 million viewers on TNT, peaking with 4.1 million from 9:45-10 p.m. ET, early in the contest. It was also the highest rated show, by far, among adults 18-49 on broadcast or cable in primetime, drawing a 1.56 rating in the key ad demographic. That's a little behind the 3.6 million who watched the season opener between the same two teams on Oct. 22 — but is the eighth most watched game of the regular season so far.

The early game of the doubleheader, between the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, drew 2.11 million viewers and a 0.95 rating among adults 18-49. The games were blacked out in all three markets and aired on regional sports networks there, which aren't included in national numbers.

Following the games, Inside the NBA brought in 1.29 million viewers, doubling its season average and scoring the biggest audience since the opening week of the 2018-19 season.