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Bulls on Pace for Lowest Local TV Ratings in Eight Years

Forbes also says operating income tanked last year and the franchise’s valuation ranking has fallen.

Stacey King (via Twitter)

It would seem as though Bulls fans are finally fed up with an inferior on-court product.

According to numbers published by Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine yesterday, the Chicago Bulls are currently in the midst of a television ratings dive relative to their recent past seasons:

Through 30 broadcasts on CSN Chicago, the middling Bulls have posted an average TV rating of 2.12, or about 74,000 Chicago-area households per game.

That's down 28 percent compared with the final season average and puts the team on pace to endure its lowest TV viewership average in nearly a decade on the network, which is co-owned by the Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox and NBCUniversal.

Some factors having nothing to do with the team's poor performance on the court have dragged down the ratings on the regional network, which has the rights to 42 Bulls games this season.

CSN's first broadcast of the season on Oct. 29 was up against Game 4 of the Cubs-Indians World Series. Its Oct. 31 game aired concurrently with the Bears on Monday Night Football, and another was up against the College Football Playoff championship game last month.

But viewership has sunk as the Bulls have struggled to a 27-29 record. The five highest-rated Bulls games on CSN this season came in November or December, led by a 3.96 rating for the Bulls-Lakers game on Nov. 30.

The dip also comes a year after the Bulls suffered a precipitous 36 percent ratings slide to their lowest average since the 2009-10 season. If viewership doesn't turn around this season, the team's average rating could fall below 2.0 for the first time since 2007-08, the year before the team drafted Derrick Rose. —Danny Ecker, Crain’s

Given that the Bulls have played 27 home games thus far this season, the fact that all five of the highest rated contests happened in 2016 would certainly indicate that the average TV rating of 2.12 is set to dip even further. As Ecker wrote above, if that happens, the indication would be local viewing interest has hit its lowest point since prior to the Derrick Rose era. Speaking of Rose, his health appeared to be directly tied to the fluctuation in average local TV ratings over the previous five seasons:

Alternatively, Fred Hoiberg just doesn’t seem to glue eyeballs to televisions like Tom Thibodeau used to.
Crain’s Chicago Business

How has this impacted the Bulls financially? Ten months ago, despite missing the playoffs, the fiscal prognosis for the Bulls was still pretty great. Even when looking at the most recent numbers according to Forbes, franchise revenue reached $232 million last year, which represents almost a 2% increase over the previous year and the fourth consecutive year the organization’s revenue has seen improvement.

However, the franchise has still fallen behind a bit in value relative to their NBA counterparts. Make no mistake, the Bulls are still one of the flagship cash-cows in professional basketball, but the meteoric rise of the Golden State Warriors has vaulted the Dubs into 3rd place when valuing teams by shared league revenue, city/market size, arena, and overall brand. The Warriors currently find themselves valued at $2.6 billion, while the Bulls have slipped to 4th place at $2.5 billion despite witnessing an increase in value by $200 million over the course of 2016 (mostly thanks to the new TV contract the NBA signed, which is also causing the recent salary cap expansion). The increase means that the Bulls have more than tripled in value as a franchise since their valuation at $800 million in 2013.


It’s also worth noting that the Bulls saw their operating income collapse by roughly 33% in 2016 from the previous fiscal year, even though the organization is only paying a little over $8 million more in player salaries this season than it did the one prior. That represents a loss of $22.5 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.

My biggest takeaway from all of this? Chicago Jewish Funerals picked a bad year to start flooding the Bulls’ commercial breaks with their bizzare advertisements.