Viewers bail on Bulls

Chicago BullsWith no Derrick Rose, casual fans tune out

With the Chicago Bulls currently a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for first place in the Central Division in the Eastern Conference, you’d think ratings would go through the roof, right?

In Chicago – where even a contending White Sox team couldn’t draw viewers or fans to U.S. Cellular Field last year – it isn’t good enough anymore.

Despite a Bulls team that is (as of this writing) six games above .500, viewers have tuned out this season without the presence of star Derrick Rose, according to Danny Eckher on Crain’s Chicago Business’ website.

As you recall, Rose went down with a season-ending injury during Game 1 of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center last April 28.

Ratings for games on CSN Chicago so far this season are down 49 percent in households from last season to a 2.9, and games on Tribune-owned WGN-TV and Weigel’s WCIU-TV has averaged a 4.4 rating, down a whopping 45 percent from last year. A game against the New York Knicks on Dec. 21 remains the highest-rated game of the season thus far, with a 5 rating for CSN.

The ratings slump come as a bit of a surprise as Chicago viewers tend to support their teams, whether they’re doing well or not. But in an era of expanded viewing choices (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.), casual fans – who tuned in to Bulls games big time during the Jordan era – are finding other programming to watch. And among other sports fans, NFL primetime games on Monday and Thursday nights also took a bite out of the Bulls’ numbers.

And this comes as other NBA teams are experiencing ratings growth. For example, the Brooklyn Nets ratings on the YES network (serving the New York City Metro area) are up 150 percent from last season, when they played across the river in New Jersey. In addition, the Nets scored triple-digit increases in all key male and adult demos.

The Bulls have been buried of sorts so far this season as Chicago Bears-related drama has dominated the ratings and sports talk-radio for the last few months. In contrast, Bears games were the most-watched program in Chicago each and every week – even when the team was going through yet another collapse and players started criticize the fans for their perceived lack of loyalty.

But with Derrick Rose expected back later in the season, look for the ratings – especially on CSN Chicago – to go on an upswing – and that’s a relief for the NBC-owned regional sports network. CSN already got some good news this week when the NHL lockout ended and the Chicago Blackhawks are expected to take the ice within the next few days. The Hawks play their first game of the season January 19 against the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center.