An exciting first half of the regular season carried over into All-Star Weekend for the NBA, which received some of the highest ratings in recent years for the few days of festivities. Sunday night’s All-Star Game netted 7.6 million viewers, the most since 2013’s contest. All-Star Saturday Night averaged 5.6 million viewers and peaked with seven million viewers during the heat of the Slam Dunk Contest.
Toronto’s All-Star Game – the NBA’s first-ever outside of the United States – marked Kobe Bryant’s eighteenth and last appearance before retirement at the end of this season. That storyline, as well as All-Star Saturday Night’s momentum carrying over into the following day, may have influenced the increase in viewership.
Saturday Night’s competitions – including the Skills Challenge, Three-Point Contest and Slam Dunk Contest – produced one of the most memorable All-Star nights in history. Reigning champion Zach LaVine and challenger Aaron Gordon dueled for eight total dunks – two each to break the tie after the first two, before LaVine was finally able to capture his second consecutive title.
The Three-Point Contest had defending champion Stephen Curry face off against teammate Klay Thompson and rookie Devin Booker in the final round. Thompson, second in the league with 161 three-pointers only behind Curry’s 245 treys, beat the fellow Splash Brother to take the crown. It was the first time in NBA history that teammates won the contest in back-to-back years.
While there have been previous concerns about fan interest in All-Star Weekend citing format issues and a lack of star power in the Slam Dunk Contest, the dramatic showdown between LaVine and Gordon – two 20-year-olds yet to reach their full potential on the court – may generate more curiosity among casual fans moving forward.
Despite reports of struggling national and local TV ratings, the NBA appears to be doing well when considering other metrics. The league announced last week it became the first professional sports league to gain more than one billion likes and follows across social media while All-Star Weekend generated more than 390 million social media impressions and 326 million video views.
In-season and All-Star Weekend ratings can certainly improve and there is no doubt it would be special to witness superstars such as LeBron James and others in the Slam Dunk Contest, but the league doesn’t have much to panic about.
With ultra-talented teams like the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers already postseason-ready and primed to make deep runs, don’t be surprised to see ratings increase during May and June. As Fields of Green suggested last week, maybe everyone is just waiting around for the playoffs.
Follow Matthew Hochberg on Twitter @MatthewHochberg.