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Nets on YES keeps setting ratings records, but Knicks on MSG maintains lead

Brooklyn Nets v New York Knicks Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Wednesday night’s Nets-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden will long be remembered for its Nets historic comeback and Cam Thomas’ 29-foot dagger, the last of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.

And a lot of people were watching across the country. According to Sports Media Watch, the game attracted an average of 1.26 million viewers on ESPN. No word on what the audience peaked at, but with such a dramatic finish, it had to be high.

Then on Thursday, despite the two teams missing six stars between them, the Nets-Wizards game attracted 101,000 viewers, peaking at 144,000 during the 9:15 p.m.-9:30 p.m. quarter hour, per Bob Raissman, the Daily News media columnist. It was, in fact, the fifth best numbers for the Nets on YES this season, says the network. Cam Show afterglow?

In fact, Nets viewership is up 49 percent over 2019-20, the season before the pandemic took hold. That gives the Nets an average of 70,000 viewers per game. That total viewer figure is the YES Network’s best viewership number heading into the All-Star Break since the 2013-2014 season when the Nets had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.

Still, as Raissman notes, the Nets on YES numbers pale in comparison to the Knicks rise over 2019-20.

The Knicks on MSG (not including MSG+) are up a whopping 76% in average total viewers at 151,000 compared to 86,000 in 2019-2020. With the losses mounting, some embarrassing, it will be challenging to keep the healthy numbers up. Yet never underestimate James (Guitar Jimmy) Dolan’s Knicks ability to sell a twisted reality show featuring dysfunction and a circus-like atmosphere.

This despite the dispute between MSG and Comcast that has blacked out the Nets and Rangers the entire season in New Jersey. (Analysts don’t believe the loss of Comcast’s coverage areas in NJ are not such a factor. MSG numbers in the Comcast viewing area are neither relatively big nor are they relatively close to the city geographically.)

Still, the Nets on YES have made a big part of the long-time gap between the two teams regional TV ratings. The rise in YES numbers have even been more extraordinary. In 2016-17, the first year of Sean Marks rebuild, the Nets drew only about 25,000 viewers on average per game for the 20-win A year later, things weren’t much better with an average of 27,000 for a 28-win team. So, the Nets ratings have basically tripled over the past five years.

Raissman thinks that as the regular season intensifies, the Nets numbers should jump, noting as well that the Nets, like their cross-river rivals, have had their share of controversy this season.

There was James Harden planning his escape from Brooklyn. And with the vaccine saga of Kyrie Irving always hanging over the team, the Nets can claim some of the circus-like quality, which has worked for the Knicks. Also, the prospects of Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons actually joining forces should juice the viewer numbers too. The notion of the Nets going on a late run to get to the playoffs (especially if there is no Yankees baseball) bolster the case for higher viewership on YES down the stretch.

That’s the regional TV ratings. The Nets have had a number of big audiences on national TV as well this season, the biggest being the 5.75 million who watched the Nets-Lakers on Christmas Day despite being up against an NFL schedule.