Wizards TV ratings up significantly, but still near the bottom of the NBA


(Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post)

For about two months, it’s seemed pretty clear that the Wizards are a near-certain playoff team, and that despite a series of disappointing losses and a never-ending flirtation with .500, this is a team on the rise. A team, dare I say, worth watching.

And yet, I’ve been surprised to find that Web traffic for Sports Bog Wizards items has not seemed particularly vibrant. Like, what’s the opposite of vibrant? Dormant? Lackluster? Meh? Something like that. (Yes, you can blame the authors if you’d like.)

Wizards fans have also pointed out that while crowds for certain home games have been full and boisterous, midweek games against blah opponents have continued to attract sometimes blah crowds. This is from moments before tip-off Tuesday night against the Raptors — a team the Wizards are battling for playoff seeding.

It turns out that this potential lag between the team’s performance and the casual D.C. fan’s interest can also be seen in the team’s local television ratings. Through the all-star break, Wizards broadcasts on Comcast SportsNet and CSN+ were averaging a 1.03 rating in the Washington TV market, good for an average of about 25,000 homes, via SportsBusiness Journal’s John Ourand.

Now, there are a couple ways to look at that number. On the one hand, it’s up 24 percent from last year at this time, and a whopping 34 percent from last year’s final ratings number. That’s a pretty sizable year-to-year increase, and in fact, it’s the ninth-biggest increase in local TV ratings among NBA teams.

On the other hand, the Wizards still have the sixth-lowest TV ratings and the sixth-lowest average audience of the 27 NBA teams SportsBusiness Journal reported on. (The ratings for Memphis, Utah and Toronto are not included.)

There’s obviously no competition between local teams, but the Wizards continue to have the lowest TV ratings of any of the big-four teams. The Redskins are a clear No. 1; the Nats on MASN and MASN2 have most recently been second; and the Caps at the Olympic break are averaging a 1.49 rating and 36,000 households on CSN and CSN+ in the Washington market, according to SportsBusiness Journal. That’s actually up from last year’s final rating, and almost 50 percent higher than the Wizards’ ratings.

On the other hand (losing track of hands here), the Wizards are showing more vitality as the season goes on. In the final 17 games before the all-star break — when the Wizards started knocking off elite teams — the team’s local broadcasts averaged a 1.33 household rating, according to Nielsen numbers.

And if you look back at the Caps’ transition from cellar-dweller to contender, the ratings lagged behind the success. In their first playoff season of the Ovechkin era, they averaged just a 0.65 household rating. The next season — when they were considered borderline Cup contenders — it was a 1.02. The big boom came in the next two years — the ’09-’10 and ’10-’11 seasons — when the Caps attracted average ratings of 1.59 and 1.78.

So I think the good times, most likely, are still to come. And yet, for the time being, several metrics would indicate that there remains more interest in the Caps than in the Wizards in what has always been referred to as a basketball town.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.

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Dan Steinberg · February 20, 2014