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Sixers' TV Ratings Are "Embarrassing"

An average of 23,000 households tuned in to Sixers' games last season, a 25 percent decrease in viewership from the 2013-14 campaign.

Few people tuned into Philadelphia 76ers' games last year, but CEO Scott O'Neil doesn't seem to be concerned.
Few people tuned into Philadelphia 76ers' games last year, but CEO Scott O'Neil doesn't seem to be concerned.
Roy Burton

With just 37 victories over the past two seasons, there isn't much about the Philadelphia 76ers that screams "must-see television." But in the wake of a recent article, it appears that the team's TV ratings are far worse than many imagined.

Late last week, Bob Fernandez of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Sixers averaged a mere 23,000 viewers during the 2014-15 campaign, a number only slightly larger than the capacity of the Wells Fargo Center itself. According to Nielsen, the team's average viewership has fallen 72 percent since 2011.

"Those numbers are embarrassing, no question about it," said media consultant and former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, when asked about the disappointing TV figures for the Sixers as well as the Phillies and Flyers, who have also seen steep declines in their ratings.

For comparison purposes, the Golden State Warriors (who play in a similarly-sized market) averaged 93,000 viewers this past season on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Three years ago - when Golden State finished 23-43 - an average of 44,000 fans tuned in to Warriors' games.

Sixers' CEO Scott O'Neil responded to the report by stating that the while the 76ers' television viewership has decreased, the team has seen an uptick in its "digital audience."

"You can go look at the [Allen] Iverson years or the [Charles] Barkley years," O'Neil said. "The market comes back. We just have to do our job."

The numbers support O'Neil's theory: During the Sixers' run to the NBA Finals in 2001, the team averaged a 3.6 rating on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. Conversely, the 2015 season-ending Sports Business Journal ratings report showed that the average household ratings for Sixers' games last year was 0.68, a 25 percent decrease from 2013-14.

Despite poor (on-court) showings by several teams in major markets, the NBA as a whole saw a four percent rise in ratings for games broadcast on regional sports networks in 2014-15. However, it should be noted that each of the league's national cable television partners (TNT, ESPN and NBA TV) experienced drops in average viewership last season ranging from 8 to 12 percent.