When Steph Curry sank his 2,974th career three-pointer in the first quarter of Golden State’s Tuesday night game in New York, some 2.35 million fans were tuned in to TNT—the fourth-largest TV turnout of the season. Taken from just beyond the arc, the shot established Curry as the NBA’s all-time leader in the category, surpassing previous record-holder Ray Allen.
If Curry’s stats weren’t sufficiently exophthalmic—he went 5-for-14 from three-point range on the night, upping his total to 2,977—his impact on the NBA’s national TV ratings this season has been giving advertisers a case of the Marty Feldmans. Through Tuesday night’s historic outing at Madison Square Garden, Curry’s Warriors have appeared in each of the NBA’s five most-watched telecasts and eight of the top 10.
Four of those five top-rated games have been televised by TNT, which as it happens, will host the 2022 Western Conference Finals. That Curry, who is on pace to put together one of the most productive seasons of his 13-year career, has been instrumental in leading the Warriors to a 23-5 record after two seasons in which the club had been plagued by injuries and, well, plague, is a particularly fortunate turn of events, given the state of the Lakers. A spotty Team LeBron has figured in just two top 10 games, although one of these, a 112-114 loss to Golden State on Opening Night, served up the biggest audience to date with 3.39 million viewers.
For advertisers, Curry represents the best shot at reaching the NBA’s enviably young fan base. (The league boasts a median viewer age of 41.9 years, making its TV audience a fountain of youth compared to a broadcast primetime viewership that’s pushing 60.) “You can still get your GRPs [gross rating points] with the Lakers and the Suns, and the Celtics have been doing numbers, but if you want to reach the biggest possible audience, it’s all Golden State,” said on national TV buyer. “Only thing is, if you didn’t buy in June, you’re out of luck.”
Advertisers looking to get in on the Curry hype are in for a long wait: Since the spring upfront bazaar, NBA inventory has been selling like Slurpees in Hell, and opportunities to make scatter buys are unlikely to materialize until deep into the first quarter of next year. As Turner Sports chief revenue officer Jon Diament told Sportico in a recent phone interview, his team “has never been in a better position as far as our NBA sales,” thanks in large part to the demand they encountered in the upfront.
Between now and the end of the regular season, TNT will carry another seven Golden State games, a spree which includes three January telecasts. And while Diament acknowledges that the Warriors have helped supercharge interest in the first few months of NBA action, he doesn’t view Curry & Co. as an all-or-nothing proposition. “I don’t feel that there’s the Warriors and then there’s everyone else,” Diament said. “This league is so crammed with young talent, it’s unprecedented. As we get deeper into the season, and the various storylines begin to come together, that’s when you’ll start to see more and more teams break into the upper ranks.”
Season-to-date, TNT’s NBA coverage is averaging 1.7 million viewers per game, up 21% versus the analogous period in 2019.
Disney, for its part, has 11 Warriors games lined up between now and early April, five of which will be broadcast on ABC. Among the most promising of these matchups is a Christmas Day Warriors-Suns showcase, which tips off on ABC at 5 p.m. ET. While the prospect of Curry taking on Chris Paul seems particularly festive, the competition for TV viewers will be ferocious, as the Golden State-Phoenix broadcast will air directly opposite Fox’s coverage of the Packers-Browns game.
Advertisers looking to get a late start on an ESPN/ABC NBA buy face the same shortage as do those circling TNT, as nearly all of Disney’s in-game inventory was sold off months ago.
Both network groups have units to sell in the second quarter, which is when unit pricing expands alongside the NBA’s seasonal explosion in reach. The playoffs are when the money really starts to roll in, as opening round units fetch north of $100,000 per 30 seconds of airtime, while the going rate for a spot in the conference semis jumps to nearly $150,000 a pop.
Assuming that things revert to form in Los Angeles—LeBron and Anthony Davis have appeared together in just 13 of 28 games, and yet the Lakers are still in contention in the West—and Kyrie Irving can take his place in Brooklyn’s roundball Megatron, neither NBA partner will have to lean so hard on Golden State in 2022. But with Klay Thompson on the verge of taking the court for the first time in two years (Warriors fans may find a Splash Brothers reunion under the tree), there are worse fates than having to ride-or-die with one team for a few months. Same as it ever was, really, only the focus has shifted 380 miles northwest.
In the meantime, Steph Curry is putting on one hell of a show.