If NBC Sports Chicago hopes to continue getting around $4.40 per subscriber fee once the Cubs depart for their own regional sports network, Chicago’s NBA team might want to improve – and fast.
Ratings released at the All-Star break for NBA teams show the Bulls sitting among the lower tier of NBA teams, with a 1.3 household average rating, down 36 percent from last year as the team continues to struggle on the court. The ratings hit a thirteen-year low for the team – the lowest since the 2005-06 season, when they also played poorly. But even then, the team had a late-season surge and actually made the playoffs.
The numbers come as the Bulls – along with the Blackhawks and White Sox re-upped with Comcast’s NBC Sports Chicago in a deal announced a month ago. Ratings for all three teams have slid for the last two years as the teams’ woes pile up, although the Blackhawks have played better as of late.
In another blow, the White Sox lost out in the bidding for Manny Machado to the San Diego Padres, which could have provided a ratings boost for NBC Sports Chicago. Last season, the White Sox ranked last in household ratings among all MLB teams (excluding Toronto.)
Fans are frustrated with the team’s direction under management led by John Paxson and Gar Forman. Still, the United Center is at near capacity for games, though revenue from ticket sales isn’t as relevant nowadays as the money teams get from TV deals. Beginning next season, all Bulls games not televised by national networks will air on NBC Sports Chicago.
Of course, the Bulls aren’t the only team shedding audiences. The New York Knicks’ ratings are also down (-41%), as the team is recently mired in a long losing streak. And even in Boston, where the Celtics are faring better than the Bulls and Knicks, ratings are down 27 percent for NBC Sports New England. The team with the lowest rating was the Orlando Magic, with a 0.4 for Fox Sports Florida, while the champion Golden State Warriors had the highest (7.3) for NBC Sports Bay Area. But even that was down 16 percent from a year ago.
Meanwhile, ratings for the NBA are down from last year across all networks, with TNT down 18 percent, 17 percent on NBA TV, 3 percent on ABC, and flat on ESPN. The ratings loss may be due to the absence of the Lakers’ LeBron James, who was injured in a Christmas Night game against the Warriors. Also, James’ shift to the Western Conference resulted in more playing more late-night games for viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones.
On a recent Saturday, a prime-time NBA game on ABC was even outdrawn by the debut of the American Alliance of Football League on CBS. The NBA and its TV partners are hoping James has a surge in the second half of the season as if the season ended today, the Lakers would not make the playoffs.
Even more pressing for the NBA is the future of numerous Fox regional sports networks in an effort by Disney to sell in order to complete its purchase of 21st Century Fox has stalled. A possible sale to an entity such as Major League Baseball could hurt NBA and NHL teams’ viability on those channels.
As for the Bulls – and NBC Sports Chicago in general, what they have to worry out is trying to maintain the high subscriber-per-rate fee they can charge for cable companies to carry them. With the White Sox losing out to the San Diego Padres in the Machado sweepstakes and the Bulls struggling – plus the high-rated Cubs leaving for their own channel, they’re going to have a tougher time doing so.