Aussie basketball players becoming ‘cultural icons’ as NBA viewing numbers swell for ESPN

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 3.29.43 PMThe power of celebrity, coupled with the impact of Australians starring in the international sporting arena, has helped ESPN record its highest ever viewing figures outside of the Superbowl, with more than 90,000 tuning in for game two of the NBA basketball finals.

The sports network described basketball as hitting a “cultural zeitgeist” in Australia, with its marketing focus on Aussies Matthew Dellavedova and Andrew Bogut helping swell interest in the sport.

Game two of the best-of-seven NBA final between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, which aired live on Monday – a public holiday – drew an average of 93,000 viewers between 10am and 1.20pm, 24,000 more than the previous NBA record set in 2011.

The first and third matches – broadcast on a Thursday and Wednesday morning – attracted 44,00 and 50,000 respectively, the latter representing the network’s third best viewing figures of the year.

Figures for the second game ranks it the highest non-superbowl broadcast for ESPN in Australia. In addition, matches and content during the regular NBA season reached 1.4m, 21 per cent higher than the previous year.

Visits to the NBA hub of also climbed 45 per cent.

ESPN Australia and New Zealand general manager Haydn Arndt said basketball is getting “cultural cut through”, particularly among men aged 18 to 34 where viewing figures soared 62 per cent.

Andrew Bogut

Andrew Bogut

Arndt said the rising prominence of Aussie stars such as Dellavedova, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Bogut, who turns out for Golden State Warriors, has catapulted the sport into the Australian psyche.

“The NBA is one of the classic American sports and we have tried to make it local by focusing and highlighting Australian players,” he said.

The on-air focus has seen interviews and footage of local stars with content also pushed through ESPN’s social and digital channels, Arndt added. The aim has been to grab the attention of “the casual viewer who dips in and out”.

“We have made sure we’ve had good clips on Facebook and other channels,” he said. “We have been very active and that has definitely helped.

“The Aussies are not just basketball players, they are cultural celebrities and cultural icons and that gets cut through. I think basketball here has hit a cultural zeitgeist and next year will be ever bigger.”

He added: “There are more Australians than ever in the NBA this year, and with Dellavedova and Bogut on opposing sides in the finals, we are guaranteed a winner.”

Such has been the impact of Australians playing in the US that the Wall Street Journal carried a story earlier this month arguing that “every NBA team needs an Australian”.

ESPN, which has a global deal to broadcast the NBA until 2025, will air the fourth game of the finals on Friday morning.

The 2014 Superbowl remains ESPN Australia’s highest rated broadcast with more than 120,000 viewers.

Steve Jones


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