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James Harden and the hunt for New York eyeballs

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Even before the Nets landed James Harden in Wednesday’s blockbuster four-team deal, Brooklyn’s ratings on YES Network were up 18 percent over the first 11 games last year, topping 72,000 viewers. That number is also nearly double what the Nets averaged for a whole season just two years ago, per industry sources.

And as Bob Raissman, of The Daily News notes, three of those games were up against NFL contests and both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have missed games.

And so far, this season, in three national TV games this season, Nets have delivered 8.2 million viewers. Nets-Warriors on Opening Night delivered 2.7 million viewers to TNT; Nets-Celtics on Christmas Day delivered 4.3 million to ABC, and on Wednesday, the Nets-Knicks game delivered a million to TNT.

Then, on Monday, as part of the NBA’s Martin Luther King Day schedule, the Nets “Big Three” are expected to debut on TNT. Good times.

Although fans are still aren’t allowed inside Barclays Center, the Nets are becoming a big draw whenever and wherever they can be seen. Now, with Harden the Nets new headliner, expect more eyeballs. As Sportico reported Friday, the Nets and YES will soon be selling more space around Barclays, all in clear view of the TV cameras, a decision directly related to the Harden trade.

Writes Eben Novy-Williams of Sportico...

Because of pinched budgets during the pandemic, the NBA is allowing broadcasts this season to include virtual ads on the court during games. The Nets and their TV partner, YES Network, originally decided to hold off on selling that space. On Thursday, 24 hours after the team acquired Harden in a blockbuster trade, the two sides reversed course. In a few weeks, advertising partners will have placement on the court during home and away games.

The trade “definitely pushed us quicker to the table,” said Howard Levinson, YES Network’s senior vice president of ad sales. “We were trying to develop a market for it, and now we feel like with this trade, the market will be there.”

(The Nets had already sold space on the tarps that cover empty sections of seats and the endlines to their big partners, Qatar Airlines and Motorola.)

The Harden Effect also effected conventional ad sales. Buyers knew instantly, there was a finite supply of minutes available on the network’s telecasts.

“It’s a supply and demand business,” Levinson said. “If a lot of the calls that we’ve gotten in the past 24 hours translate into the kind of business I think it will, the rates will be going up again. As we sell more, and inventory dwindles, we raise the rates. That’s the plan for right now.”

There were also more ads to sell, noted Novy-Williams. In a normal year, YES will sell 70 percent of its ads upfront, that is before the season. This year, with so much uncertainty because of the pandemic, YES had half its ad inventory available.

One ad buyer who got in early (at a presumably cheaper rate than those now arriving) said he’s happy with the way things have worked out.

“We are thoughtful when selecting our partners, knowing the strength of their consumer brands and local fan base in each market,” Andrew Sneyd, senior vice president of brand at FanDuel, said in a statement. “The trade yesterday is incredibly exciting for the Nets, Net’s fans, YES, and FanDuel.”

Winning cures everything but as Raismann notes, if Irving and Harden, in particular, become problems, it literally could be a turnoff for TV viewers.

Not so fast. Again, is this going to be a circus or must-see basketball? If viewers are turned off by any antics, like Irving pulling an extended Houdini (he was expected to be in the lineup on Saturday), this will make it harder for eyeballs to relate to and watch the Nets.

The once highly likeable team made up of young over-achieving players acquired by the Mastermind, Sean Marks, is gonzo. Now the Nets are known for their high-ticket mercenaries. Reminds us of another YES product, the big-ticket Yankees. Their loyalists cherish the mega contract, win at all cost acquisitions. Will Nets fans feel the same?

What’s a good number for all, from ownership to ad buyers to fans? Raismann thinks 100,000 viewers a night is a good number. Watch this space.