The NBA hopes that a move away from 10:30 p.m. ET tip times will help boost viewership for the 2019-20 season.
When the NBA schedule is released on Monday afternoon, expect to see a lot less 10:30 p.m. eastern start times on national TV. The league and its broadcast partners have cut the number from 56 last year to 33 this season, according to a source familiar with the schedule, with no 10:30 p.m. ET starts on the backend of ESPN’s Wednesday night doubleheaders. There were 18 such tips a year ago.
“We understand,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said over the weekend. “Look, I live on the east coast as well, and there are a lot of nights where I’m going to bed at 1:30 in the morning and that’s not watching Inside the NBA. If you want to stay up and watch Inside the NBA, it sometimes can go even later, so we’re sympathetic.”
Moving the late games up by 30 minutes in most cases and an hour in others will impact west coast fans, but the hope is the ratings effect will be a net positive after the NBA’s viewership was flat-to-down in 2018-19. The Lakers and Warriors, two of the league’s biggest draws, will go from 37 10:30 p.m. ET tips down to 21.
Los Angeles will reportedly play the Clippers on opening night after Zion Williamson debuts with the Pelicans in Toronto. Those games will begin at the traditional times—8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.—with TNT experimenting with earlier starts on other Tuesdays. Its signature Thursday night times will remain unchanged this season.
The full NBA schedule will be released at 3 p.m. eastern on ESPN’s The Jump. The 2019-20 season starts Oct. 22, a week later than last year. That could also have a positive ratings effect, given it will mean less overlap with the NFL in the fall.
"Each season we work in close concert with the NBA on the ESPN/ABC schedule with an eye toward maximizing audience and best serving NBA fans,” ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and scheduling Burke Magnus said in a statement. “The effort around an earlier start time for Wednesday night games this season is a great example of the collaboration. We are anxious to see the results, as we believe this will be an incredibly competitive NBA season full of compelling storylines."