Despite on-court collapse, Pacers TV ratings still soaring

April 30, 2014
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May 2 UPDATE: The Pacers’ win in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series vs. Atlanta Thursday was the highest-rated telecast ever on Fox Sports Indiana.

Thursday’s game earned a 10.4 household rating in Indianapolis, according to Nielsen Media Research. That tops the previous high of 10.1 set May 17, 1999, for Game 1 of a second-round playoff series vs. Philadelphia.

Pacers-Hawks was the top-rated program Thursday in prime time in Indianapolis. It peaked at a 14.6 rating (160,000 households) in the game’s final minutes.

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The Indiana Pacers’ recent on-court collapse hasn’t hurt TV viewership.

The rating for their April 24 first-round playoff game against Atlanta was 9.9 (106,130 central Indiana households), according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. That made it the second-highest rated Pacers game on Fox Sports Indiana cable channel. A second round game against Philadelphia on May 17, 1999, scored a 10.1.

The April 28 game against Atlanta tallied 9.2, according to Nielsen. That’s more than double the average regular season rating for Pacers games on Fox Sports Indiana, and is the fifth-highest-rated Pacers game on that channel.

In terms of TV ratings, the Pacers have been one of the league’s highest performers all year. The 100-percent increase from last year is the highest in the NBA this season—by a long margin. Phoenix scored the second-highest increase at 80 percent (to 2.18) and New Orleans was third with a 62-percent increase (to 1.78).

The Pacers had a regular season average rating of 4.2 (45,100 central Indiana households). That’s the fourth-highest average rating for local broadcasts of all 30 NBA teams. Oklahoma City was tops with a 8.81, followed by San Antonio at 7.49 and Miami at 6.85. Portland rounded out the top five at 4.06.

Regular season ratings for the Pacers’ live pregame show jumped 150 percent, and the team’s live postgame show increased 71 percent, according to Nielsen.

The Pacers games still can’t draw the size of local TV audiences as teams in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—even when those teams have down years—due to the disparity in market size. Still, though, it’s difficult to argue the Pacers aren’t overachieving.

The Pacers’ gains come during a season when the league as a whole saw a 5-percent decrease of its locally televised games. Even Fox Sports officials said the Pacers TV ratings this year are beating expectations.

Why are the Pacers racking up such impressive TV numbers?

“I’d start with the fact that they have a very good team,” said Fox Sports Network General Manager Jack Donovan.

But that’s no all.

“Another relevancy is the Pacers players are very community minded. They’ve worked very hard to get out in the community, do a lot of charity work, and that’s resonated with fans,” Donovan said.

You have to wonder, though, if the Pacers are squandering a golden opportunity to grow their audience even bigger. With so many eyeballs on the team, it's a shame they're playing so poorly. Fox Sports officials remain undaunted.

While Fox has a “significant” marketing budget including TV, print and billboard for Pacers telecasts, it hasn’t been increased dramatically in recent years, Donovan said.

Donovan is optimistic the Pacers’ ratings will continue to increase next year. The Pacers started off the first half the season red hot on the court, but since the all-star break the team has struggled to win more games than it loses. Monday, the Pacers were pushed to the brink in their first-round playoff series against No. 8 seeded Atlanta, which finished the regular season six games under .500.

The team gets another shot at Atlanta on Thursday, another game televised on Fox Sports Indiana. If they lose, they are eliminated from the playoffs.

Donovan doesn’t think the late-season swoon will deter advertising demand for next season.

“It’s a long season and every team goes through slumps,” Donovan said. “But this is a young, talented team and we’re expecting great things for next year.”

Donovan hasn’t given up on the Pacers this year. Still, it’s easy to understand why Fox Sports officials are looking to next season.

Fox sold out its ad inventory during Pacers games this year and Donovan anticipates an advertising rate increase for next year, though he said it’s too early to say how high.

“It’s absolutely a supply-and-demand situation and right now we have a lot of demand for advertising on this programming,” Donovan said. “We’re already getting lots of interest for ad renewals for next year. Advertisers that get in early for next year, will pay less.”

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