The Golden State Warriors, who set an NBA record Tuesday night, are in rarefied territory, on and off the basketball court.
The defending champion Warriors added to their pedigree this week when the team crushed the once-powerful Los Angeles Lakers, 111-77, at home in Oakland to capture its 16th straight victory this season. In doing so, the Warriors broke the record for most consecutive wins to start an NBA season.
The defending NBA champion Warriors are also flexing their muscles on television.
Telecasts of the Bay area team are averaging 2.27 million total viewers on TNT this season, 35% higher than for comparable games telecast last season, said Nate Smeltz, a spokesman for Time Warner's (TWX) TNT network.
Disney's (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report ESPN is also enjoying a positive boost from its telecasts of Golden State games. Such contests, said Ben Cafardo, an ESPN spokesman, have generated on average 27% higher ratings than games that don't include the NBA champions. Golden State games are also the channels highest-rated and most-viewed NBA games. Their Nov. 4 game against the Los Angeles Clippers, and a Nov. 20 contest against the Chicago Bulls were the two highest-rated basketball games on ESPN this season.
The surge in ratings for early-season NBA games comes a year after the league signed a lucrative nine-year, $24 billion rights contract with Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting and ESPN. That contract doesn't begin until the start of the 2016-17 season, but the emergence of an elite team like Golden State with a magnetic star like Stephen Curry may help to ease any concerns that the broadcaster overpaid.
The Warriors are scheduled to be on national television 26 times during the NBA regular season, "showing just how popular the team is and how important it is to TNT, ESPN and [Disney's] ABC," said Lee Berke of LHB Sport Entertainment and Media, a sports management firm.
Golden State's ascendance comes at a critical time for the league. Longtime Lakers standout Kobe Bryant is in decline, playing out his final season, while 13-year NBA veteran LeBron James may be exiting his prime years. As a sport that revolves around superstars, the NBA needs new faces to hold national audiences. Stephen Curry, the young Warriors guard, fits the bill with his likable air, charisma, and of course, his shooting ability.
"The Golden State Warriors are now 'America's Team,' in basketball," said Neal Pilson, former president of
Sports and the head of Pilson Communications, a television-sports consulting company. As sports fans know, the NFL's Dallas Cowboys took the lucrative moniker of "America's Team" many years ago, and exploited it to become a money machine off the playing field.
The Warriors' success is even more compelling given that the team doesn't play in a large media market such as New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago. This underscores the point that television is the great equalizer in sports. Whether LeBron James plays in Cleveland or Miami, or Kevin Durant plays in the relatively small market of Oklahoma City, fans will follow both of them on TNT, ESPN or ABC.
In addition, the Warriors start most of their games at 10:30 p.m., Eastern Time, meaning that fans on the population-soaked East Coast must stay up late just to glimpse the best team in the country.
For the television networks that televise Warriors games, the national TNT and ESPN outlets as well as the regional Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report sports network in the Bay Area, the victory comes in higher ratings and possibility that subscribers will think twice before ending their cable-TV contract, or subscribe because of the team's attractions.
Golden State has already sold most of its advertising package for this season, so it doesn't stand to benefit in the immediate future from the record-breaking winning streak.
"It's possible the networks have held back a small segment of ads for late in the season -- because they figured that the Warriors would have another powerful season -- but most of the contracts were signed many months back," Pilson said.
Not that the national networks are complaining.
"We have the Warriors in our prime window on Christmas Day, in an NBA Finals rematch with Cleveland and LeBron James," said Cafardo, the ESPN spokesman.
Today, the Internet means so much to enhance an entity's popularity and the Warriors are no different. "The NBA is very strong at cultivating a big social media buzz," Berke said. "The more people care about the NBA on social media, the more they're going to want to watch the highlights on Facebook and Twitter. This only increases the overall buzz."
"You know," Cafardo pointed out, "people are talking about the New England Patriots being a huge TV draw -- but the Warriors are the same way now in basketball."