If, by instinct, you turned on TNT last night at 8 p.m. EST expecting to see Ernie, Charles, Kenny, Shaq setting up a prime time basketball game, you received an unpleasant surprise: Hotel Transylvania 2.
Turner Sports has decided to make a change with Inside the NBA and their Thursday night NBA doubleheader. For the rest of 2021, TNT’s featured sports broadcast will air on Tuesday nights to avoid going against Thursday Night Football, per NBA Insider Marc Stein.
The NFL has broadcast games consistently on Thursday night since the mid-2000s, but at first, only towards the end of the season — and the games aired exclusively on NFL Network. For those who remember the beginnings of the HD cable era, packages that included NFL Network were quite expensive.
These days, the NFL is all-in on its Thursday night game, broadcasting most of them on Fox and Amazon Prime — which will have exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football beginning with the 2022 season. This has presented a challenge to the former primetime king of sports on Thursday night, the NBA on TNT.
As great as the studio show and the games are, there is no way to compete with the NFL. Week 7 was an uninteresting Thursday Night football matchup with Teddy Bridgewater and the dink-and-dunk Denver Broncos vs. the Cleveland Browns and their backup quarterback Case Keenum. Still, that 17-14 Browns victory averaged 12.99 million viewers. In opposition, two of the NBA’s fastest rising stars — Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, both in top 10 markets — played against each other opposite the NFL game and averaged just over one million viewers.
The move to Tuesday for the rest of 2021 would normally put the NBA’s featured broadcast on a day that would have limited competition, but this past Tuesday, Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks were up against Game 1 of the World Series. The early-season basketball game averaged 1.42 million viewers while the opening game of the Major League Baseball’s championship averaged 10.8 million viewers — the lowest opening game viewership in World Series history for a game not played on a neutral site.
Clearly, the NFL is the Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Netflix of its market place. Each season, 32 teams play less than 20 regular season games, once per week, and with all of the content that is available to people on television there is no way to compete with the NFL on a game-to-game basis.
So why fight it?
The NBA on TNT has been a staple for decades. Those who regularly watch the NBA, or who randomly get an urge to watch the sport expect there to be two games every Thursday from mid-late October to late April. There’s no need to mess with millions of peoples’ viewing habits.
In its 75th anniversary, the NBA currently has the best product in the history of the league. There are spectacular players from all over the world putting on a highly entertaining product, and that even includes Canada.
There’s nothing wrong with the fact that Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics on a Thursday night in November can’t compete with New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles at the same time. The Lakers and Celtics are going to play more nationally televised games than the Giants and Eagles combined and still cash in on games broadcast locally.
The quality of that product has allowed Turner Sports to acquire rights to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, MLB, and NHL. Inside the NBA is a pop culture staple. How many times has Charles Barkley hosted Saturday Night Live? How many times has Terry Bradshaw?
Yes, it makes sense makes sense for the NBA and Turner to wrangle as many viewers as possible during NFL season, but that doesn’t make it any less of a shame that a show like Inside the NBA that’s as recognizable as a NBC Must-See TV program from the 1990’s, has to temporarily move from the timeslot that it’s held for decades because 10 million people are going to watch Keenum and Bridgewater both pass for less than 200 yards.