By Brian Tinsman

WASHINGTON — John Wall has appeared in just 37 of his Washington Wizards’ 62 games this season, but fans are tuning in even when he isn’t on the court.

This season, the Wizards have an average rating of 1.52 on NBC Sports Washington, which is a 70 percent increase over last season. Head coach Scott Brooks says “we’re definitely not a better team without him,” but the fans don’t seem to mind. Here’s why.

According to data collected by the Washington Business Journal, the NBA is on a sharp upward trajectory in TV viewership across the board, including:

  • Nationally-televised games on ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT all experiencing more than 10 percent increase in viewership
  • Combined 15 percent jump in overall league viewership
  • A combined 7 percent increase for regional sports networks, like NBC Sports Washington

The data shows that the Wizards are one of 17 local broadcasts for NBA teams that posted increased in viewership this season. The 70 percent ranks second in the NBA for year-over-year increase. Only the Celtics (82 percent) have witnessed greater increase this year.

It’s impossible to look at the NBA’s success without comparing it to the NFL, which saw double-digit losses in viewership over the last two years. Mired in political and social controversy on top of generations of players now experiencing the ill effects of collisions, football seems to be trending down while basketball trends up.

They just won’t meet in the middle for a long time.

Last year, while slumping hard in December, the Redskins pulled an embarrassing 11.8 rating, in what Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post called “among the lowest for any game in the Daniel Snyder era.”

And it was still nearly 10 times what the Wizards average in viewership. NFL games that have no natural rooting interest for D.C. sports fans regularly pull in the same size crowd.

In many ways, the conversation is apples to oranges based on the nature of the leagues. The NBA plays 82 games, nearly five times as many as the NFL. The NFL is worried about market saturation playing on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights, while the NBA follows an irregular schedule and could play any night of the week.

Even within worrisome trends, the NFL has built such a lead in viewers that it will take a while for the NBA to catch up. But if trends continue, that could become a reality in the foreseeable future.

 

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