Media Mailbag: NBA Changing Networks, Debate Shows, Sports Media Predictions

I had Outkick readers send in their media questions to my DMs for the mailbag this week.

Here we go:

“Why do daytime sports talk and debate shows get so much attention? Aren’t the ratings pretty low given that many people are working during the day? Do many viewers DVR these shows?”

I have gotten this question a few times.

According to FiveThirtyEight, most of the U.S. labor force arrives in the office between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Meaning, yes, most working Americans are gone while the debate shows, which air from 9:30 a.m. to 12 .pm ET, are on. But that’s not everyone.

On the West Coast, those are early morning shows that viewers, who start work at 9, have on while they get ready for work. It also plays well with the younger audience that’s in college. Many college students are not in class at those times. And, of course, there are those who work afternoons.

As to why the shows get so much attention, I assume you mean coverage. It’s for the same reason, just the other way. First Take and Undisputed air during the time most online writers are working. You could call it “blogging hours.” At 10 a.m., bloggers are searching for content. They are not doing so, mostly, at 5:30 when PTI, the most-watched studio show, airs.

Another factor is the competition. The debate shows avoid most of the top political programs. As the chart below shows, 10 a.m to 12 p.m. ET the political shows don’t rate quite as well (though, still crush sports shows):

And, yes, viewers can DVR the shows that air while they are at work.

“Do you expect NBA ratings to ever recover or will cord cutting prevent it from ever happening?”

I don’t fault cord-cutting as much as others. Cord-cutting has negatively impacted all TV products but the NBA was the only league that has nosedived the past two seasons.

The NBA’s problems are unfixable. It’s a social media driven league that answers to Twitter users. It’s also a bad regular season product. The games do not matter. Seeding has little to no impact in the playoffs. And, more importantly, three teams matter at most each season.

The vast majority of the storylines before the conference finals are a waste of time. And fans have grown to realize that. Streaks and momentum are so meaningless that star players take games off to manage the load. If they don’t care, why would the fans?

My prediction for the NBA playoffs would have been higher if the season would’ve resumed sooner. Now, the marquee playoff matchups and the Finals are going to occur during football season. The NBA is used to owning the months of May and June; they’ll now share September and October. Not just with football, but with election coverage and debates.

The viewership for the Finals last season wasn’t kind (down nearly 14%) — I don’t see it going up much this year.

“Do you ever see Fox, NBC, or CBS getting NBA games or is the NBA too married to Disney?”

I love this transition. While I’m not high on the NBA’s viewership trajectory, it’s still live sports. Meaning, networks value it.

Disney is, as you said, married to the NBA. I’d be shocked if the ESPN/ABC package decreases at all when the deal expires after the 2024-25 season. It’s the Turner package I find fascinating. Adam Silver publically called the cable TV model “broken” in 2019. Turner only has cable channels and can’t fix that problem. NBC, FOX, and CBS can.

If the NBA shifts its season to a December start, it’s Thursday night games go from getting crushed by Thursday Night Football to relevant. FOX could seamlessly air the NBA on Thursdays as soon as football season ends, if it were to poach the package away from Turner. Basketball fans have long wished the NBA would return to NBC. NBC’s production of the NBA was widely considered the league’s best. NBC, like FOX, would give the NBA a boost airing on broadcast TV. CBS strikes me as an odd fit. But it would have the same impact.

“Which network and when do you think someone will pick up Ben Shapiro for cable news?”

Ben Shapiro has more TV potential than anyone else who is not currently on TV. Shaprio’s energy, point of view, mind, and ability to move the discussion is everything cable news looks for. It’s not easy to become a star on TV in 2020 — Shapiro would do it quickly.

The obstacle is that he runs the Daily Wire and hosts a daily podcast/radio show. Shapiro doesn’t have to answer to executives and is arguably the top digital draw in political media. He may not want to give that up to do TV full-time. Doing TV in addition to running the company would require a hellacious schedule.

If he were to one day make the move, Fox News is the obvious fit. OANN, a Fox News competitor, could look at Shapiro as the personality that would put it on the map. CNBC is also considering pivoting to a conservative primetime lineup. Any of these destinations would benefit from adding Shapiro.

“What are your 3 sports media predictions for the remainder of the year?”

Wow, predictions. Hmm:

1. For the past two years, I’ve said Stephen A. Smith has been the Personality of the Year. That ends this year.

2. With the election and my expectation of national anthem protests, 90% of sports TV shows will be down year-over-year. One slot that won’t be: ESPN from 4-4:30. Canceling High Noon will increase that slot this fall. It’s unclear what will air there.

3. ESPN will realize it has lost too many valuable talents. ESPN Radio is losing its best current radio host in Will Cain. It doesn’t have a replacement for him, and the ratings will suffer, as a result. Adam Amin is an A-level game-caller — not many of those floating around. And those are just recent losses. The network has never been able to fill the void of Colin Cowherd and Mike Tirico; Ryen Russillo appears to be a loss; Skip Bayless is still a major TV draw (his contract is expiring); and, Chris Haynes is an unavoidable NBA reporter.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.