Coming off the heels of record ratings in the Finals, the NBA has reason to be confident in ratings, especially in the Warriors who will be a truly gargantuan draw. Their schedule on Christmas Day will show us just how confident
The only game we know for sure on Christmas is Warriors-Cavs, in Cleveland. As the rest of the schedule trickles out, keep in mind that Christmas is on a Sunday this year. That means the NBA has to contend with NFL football, a ratings juggernaut.
The NFL has adjusted its schedule to compensate, but not entirely. Most of Week 16 will be played on Saturday, Christmas Eve, with normal Thursday and Monday night games as well. But there will be two games played on Christmas Day: Ravens-Steelers (4:30) and Chiefs-Broncos (8:30).
Given that both of these games are interdivisional, with likely competitive teams in markets where the NFL dwarfs the NBA, ratings will likely be great. Things can always go wrong, but betting on good football ratings in the near-term is the sports business equivalent of betting on the sun to rise in the east and set in the west.
If things go south for the Ravens and/or Steelers however, there is a chance the NFL may get beat. That game is on NFL Network which doesn’t have as many people subscribed to it as ABC or ESPN, the two networks that carry Christmas Day games for the NBA. Adam Silver should be bold with this timeslot and put on one of their better matchups regardless of what they do later on. It’ll be a good barometer for the league.
Things get really interesting for the NBA when it comes to their prime-time game. The NFL’s website has no specific language relating to whether or not NBC can flex Chiefs-Broncos out of the 8:30 timeslot if things go south for those teams. This seems to insinuate that the same rules apply as any other week, meaning that they could use flex scheduling if necessary so whatever game is played then is sure to be good.
When the full NBA schedule is released (likely later this week), pay close attention to what game the NBA decides to put in that slot. If it’s Warriors-Cavs, that will signal that the NBA has massive confidence in its product and believes it can compete directly with the NFL. If it’s a game involving the Lakers or the a team like the Knicks, Timberwolves or Wizards that may be good or may be bad, it signals the opposite.
Christmas Day is a chance for the NBA to try and prove it’s there with the sport universally regarded as unbeatable from a ratings standpoint. When the schedule comes out, we’ll know whether the NBA will even attempt to try.