The NBA has just completed its first-ever Season Tournament with the LA Lakers taking home the win. The In-Season Tournament (IST) is an annual competition for all 30 teams in the NBA. The idea behind the tournament was to create a formula to keep the players competitive and get the fans engaged.
The IST was introduced with a stylish Ocean’s Eleven–themed montage promotional video featuring some of the top NBA athletes. The inaugural In-Season Tournament tipped off on Friday 3rd of November and finished on Saturday 9th of December. All 30 teams were randomly drawn into groups of five within their conference based on won/loss records from the 2022-23 regular season.
Quarterfinals participants made $50,000 and the players on the teams out in the semifinals earned $100,000 for their appearance. Players of the losing team, the Indiana Pacers, will make $200,000 each, while the IST winners are set to receive a team trophy, and individual medals and each player will be awarded $500,000 for winning the title.
Inspired by the Premier League and international football seasons that blend multiple schedules at once, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spent years trying to convince players, teams, and owners that the In-Season Tournament would work. The In-Season Tournament has created Twitter buzz and given meaning to regular-season games that are normally overlooked as U.S. sports fans obsess over other sports such as NFL and college football.
The IST allowed room for the NBA and its partners to try new things such as 30 new court designs for the event, home teams sporting their newly designed “City Edition” uniforms, and new content formats. ESPN applied its popular watch-along format to its coverage of this weekend’s NBA In-Season Tournament Championship game, with comedian Kevin Hart as its host. The watch captured the authentic way Kevin Hart and his friends watched the NBA with lively discussion, debate, and banter and had special guest appearances from top athletes and celebrities.
The IST was a huge success if we look at the stats. Over the last few years, the ratings for the league have been anti-climactic, plateauing across ABC, ESPN and TNT Sports. For the 2022-23 season, the numbers dropped for both the regular season and for the NBA Finals, which suffered a 6% dip from 2022. But for the IST’s “Group Play” stage, there was an average of 1.5 million viewers, a 26% increase in games watched across ESPN and TNT compared to November games from last season.
Local television saw a 20% rise in viewership and watch time on League Pass was up 25%, both compared to November dates from last year. The NBA App, along with the league’s social media channels, had its best November to date, with the digital accounts seeing 3.9 billion video views. TNT’s broadcast of the quarterfinal matchup between the Phoenix Suns and the Lakers saw an increase of 89% compared to last season’s window, averaging 1.97 million views. Additionally, more people are physically going to the games. The league’s November attendance average marked the highest amount ever recorded for the month, at 18,206 people.
What started as an odd experiment to most players in the league and die-hard fans around the globe, the IST now looks like it could be around for years to come with both the stars and audiences going all-in. The league invested a lot of time, brainpower, and money into the rollout of the IST and the gamble appears to have paid off.