Data says that America loves the Denver Nuggets
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Data says that America loves the Denver Nuggets

Most of the state of Colorado can’t watch the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets. However, the rest of America is enjoying the show. NBA insider/analyst Ethan Strauss dove into some viewership data for a recent post on his substack.

He looked at the viewership of ESPN and TNT televised games and found out that there is plenty of room in the American television landscape for a small-market, non-NFL champion. The Nuggets are the only team to record four games with two million or more viewers on those two networks. Last season, the NBA averaged 1.59 million viewers per national televised game according to Sports Media Watch data.

The 2023 NBA playoffs were the highest rated in five years. Both Conference Finals did great numbers, but there was reason for concern about the NBA’s premier event when both the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers failed to advance. With an average of 11.64 million viewers, the 2023 NBA Finals was only slightly lower than the 2022 series between the Celtics and Golden State Warriors — 12.4 million.

Comcast is the largest cable television service provider in Colorado. The Nuggets play on Altitude Sports Network — property of team owner Kroenke Sports and Entertainment which also owns the Colorado Avalanche, and family patriarch Stan owns the Los Angeles Rams. Comcast dropped Altitude from its service in 2019, and the two sides still have not been able to negotiate a truce that allows the home fanbase to watch the team. Even with their home market largely blacked out from the highly entertaining broadcast team of Chris Marlowe, Christopher Dempsey, Scott Hastings, and Katy Winge, the “small-market” Nuggets have become one of the most popular teams in the NBA.

Market size doesn’t always dictate interest. The Lakers, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Yankees will always reign supreme, but that does not mean fans have only enough bandwidth to care about those three franchises. I saw plenty of Orlando Magic Penny Hardaway jerseys during the 90s in the Chicago area. The seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns were one of the most polarizing teams in NBA history.

Exciting players and teams will always draw eyeballs. Nikola Jokić hitting ridiculously high-arcing shots and also spraying passess to Jamal Muray for 27-foot 3-pointers and Aaron Gordon for alley oops is tremendous television. The Nuggets have been entertaining since the 2020 playoffs, but it took some time for the public to warm up to them.

Murray’s ACL injury in 2021 put their rise on ice for a couple of years. Even though Jokić won consecutive MVPs, without its star guard the team won one playoff game from the 2021 semi-finals to the 2022 first round. During the 2023 playoffs, the sports world got to see the Nuggets offense at full strength against Kevin Durant and LeBron James. With the postseason a little more than a month away, Jokić & Co. will enter it as one of the hottest shows on TV.

A little bit of exposure can go a long way. Being that the Nuggets are defending NBA Champions, they were scheduled for 30 nationally televised games in the 2023-24 — 22 excluding NBATV telecasts. That is still 10 less than the Lakers, and 11 fewer than the Warriors. However, it’s the champs who have the best cable television numbers.

Unfortunately, for the Nuggets home fans, greed has kept them from watching a defending championship season. As for the rest of the country, the people liked what they saw late last spring and are ready for more.

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