When the 2012-13 NBA broadcast schedule was released, the defending champion Miami Heat, as expected, had received clearance on ESPN for ten games, the maximum for a single team during the NBA’s regular season.
Now, with the Heat winning twenty-five straight games, fixated on breaking the record of 33 in a row set by the Los Angeles Lakers four decades ago, that limit seems to be going out the window.
Late Friday night, the network announced that they are “teaming up with the NBA to document the Miami Heat’s historic pursuit of the NBA-record win streak Monday, March 25, with a telecast of the Miami Heat at Orlando Magic game at 7 PM ET.” This, of course, would put ESPN over the maximum of ten; the network is already scheduled to carry the Heat’s very next contest on Wednesday, March 27, at Chicago.
And NBATV, the league-owned cable network (co-owned with Turner Sports) is also getting into the act. They simulcast Friday night’s Heat tilt at home vs. the Detroit Pistons, and will also air their next game vs. the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday night, the Heat’s final game before a four-game road trip.
Supposing the Heat enter the month of April with their winning streak not going out like the proverbial emasculated lion in the month of March, they would need only four more games to break the 33-game winning streak record – and three of those games are at home. TNT is already scheduled to carry the Heat’s home game vs. the New York Knicks on Tuesday, April 2. Their next game is on the road in Charlotte on Friday, April 5 (likely another NBATV game).
It sets things up perfectly for the Heat if they beat the Bobcats and extend their winning streak to 32 games, because their next games that would potentially tie and break the record would be played at American Airlines Arena.
And despite the Heat’s opponents in those two games – the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, April 6 and the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, April 9, both of which hold records of around or below .500 – these games still have the potential to draw high ratings.
It may be an instant given that both of these games would also be broadcast over ESPN on these nights.
But what about the Worldwide Leader’s big brother, ABC?
Granted, ESPN would have a hand in the broadcasts, since all ABC NBA telecasts are dubbed “ESPN On ABC.”
But there’s a possibility ABC would gladly burn down their regular primetime schedules in the name of sports history. In the February sweeps period, ABC ranked third with a 1.7, barely better than NBC – which itself finished in fifth place with a 1.2 average. With the Miami Heat, ABC enjoyed its best NBA Finals ratings in nearly a decade, and the team also delivered the network a nifty Christmas ratings gift, as well.
They don’t necessarily need to assign Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy for the Saturday, April 6 Heat/76ers game, as the duo will be working one of ABC’s two NBA broadcasts the following afternoon. But if ESPN can cover five NBA games on Christmas Day (two of which were worked by Breen and Van Gundy in Los Angeles last year), I’m sure they can deploy someone to work the Heat’s April 6 contest.
By the way, ABC’s current Saturday lineup consists of reruns of shows like “Splash” and “Celebrity Wife Swap” coupled with “20/20”. Long story short, Saturday nights are a virtual ratings wasteland – but Fox has the right idea of programming live sporting events on that night for most of the year. So it might be easier for ABC to easily ditch its Saturday night lineup in favor of Heat/76ers.
To do so on Tuesday, April 9, however, would be a different ball game. ABC’s Tuesday night lineup is anchored by the “Dancing With The Stars” results show. Also, its lead-in, the new “Splash” series (not to be confused with the Daryl Hannah movie) has given the network some great ratings ripple early on.
But if the Miami Heat are on the cusp of making history on that night, a few adjustments could be made. The Heat/Bucks game, currently scheduled for a 7:30 PM tip-off, could be moved to a 9 PM start, so that ABC could air “Dancing With The Stars” at a special 8 PM (ET) time, followed by the game.
In the past, as sports records were set to be broken, the broadcast partners wanted to be part of it. On Tuesday September 8, 1998, in primetime, Fox carried the Chicago Cubs/St. Louis Cardinals game, in which Mark McGwire surpassed Roger Maris’ then-record of 61 home runs in a single season. When the New England Patriots compiled a 16-0 regular season record on the night of Saturday, December 30, the game was aired on both CBS and NBC (they simulcast NFL Network’s feed). Last season, Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas’ record of touchdown passes in consecutive games in a Sunday night game aired on NBC.
If the Heat are going to set a new record for consecutive wins, it may as well receive national exposure. At the very least, you can expect the game to be aired by ESPN. In fact, the fact that the Heat’s opponent that night will be the Bucks, who haven’t had a game broadcast on ABC in I don’t know how long, probably has the folks at the Worldwide Leader shaking all over with glee.
But why not let a wider audience on ABC in on some history? After all, it seems like everybody except Dan Sileo is enjoying this Miami Heat winning streak. But, I suppose Tom Bergeron and Joey Lawrence might have other ideas.
Until then, if you can’t stand the Heat, don’t turn on ESPN. For awhile.