The Los Angeles Lakers have never experienced a stretch of three years without making the playoffs in franchise history, so it may be understandable that Time Warner Cable never imagined facing this problem when it signed a 20-year, $4 billion deal with the franchise for local television rights.
However, this will be the third straight year that the Lakers miss the playoffs, and may be the last year that their ratings come close to reflecting the value of that deal. Despite a horrendous 11-44 record at the All-Star break, the Lakers are still among the top-5 teams in local audience size, mainly due to the hype surrounding Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour.
This begs the question: what will happen to those ratings after Kobe Bryant is gone?
The answer to that question may not be one that Jeanie Buss is happy with. Despite a large audience size, the Lakers are experiencing their lowest ratings since moving to Los Angeles in 1960 and the cross-town rival Clippers are starting to close the gap between the two. Without a name like Kobe Bryant to carry the ratings next season, local ratings may continue to plummet for the league’s most storied franchise.
It may be that the Buss family feels a need to make a big signing in free agency, perhaps for no reason other than to keep the ratings afloat. Despite the salary cap taking a big jump, there aren’t many free agents with that kind of sway available this summer other than superstar Kevin Durant. And though Durant has been rumored to go to the Lakers this summer, Los Angeles’ recent history with big name free agents like LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard suggests otherwise.
If the franchise can’t turn around its fortunes in free agency, the ratings will certainly suffer because of it.