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Younger viewers tuning into NBA this season

Posted May 10 2012 7:33PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- Blake Griffin's dunk contest winner - a soaring jam over a car during last year's NBA All-Star weekend - set off more social media buzz than a Super Bowl ad.

"Once in a lifetime," said Tim Chaney, the marketing director for Kia, which was lucky enough to have the electrifying moment fused with its product before a national TV audience.

What's less unique is Griffin's status as a young, engaging, Twitter-savvy NBA star. The emergence of the Clippers forward and others like him may explain the league's increased appeal among coveted but hard-to-attract younger viewers.

"The league has always done a good job promoting its stars," Chaney said. "It's a star-driven league, and there's a new, emerging class of younger stars."

The lockout-shortened season drew robust TV ratings across the board. But the numbers were particularly strong among the young - a development that sponsors always like to see.

TNT had its highest-rated regular season in its 28-year relationship with the NBA, as the average viewership increased 4 percent from last season. Among adults aged 18-34, though, the audience was up 13 percent, and the median viewer age decreased from 38 years to 36.7.

On ESPN, the median age of viewers decreased from 37 years to 36.4, and on ABC, it dropped from 41.8 to 40.8. ABC also had its highest-rated regular season for NBA games on the network, up 10 percent from last year. Among viewers 18-34, the rating increased 15 percent.

"Our fan response across everything we do has been terrific - from television to attendance to social media," Commissioner David Stern said on a conference call before the start of the playoffs. "Our sponsors are very happy with the way the league has charged back and we are looking forward to a very exciting playoffs."

The demographic reached by the NBA has always been enticing to longtime sponsor Sprite, said Sharon Byers, Coca-Cola's senior vice president of sports and entertainment for North America.

"We understand the ratings are going to ebb and flow," she said. "At the end of the day, the NBA targets an avid fan that Sprite wants to connect to. It's a younger fan, a multicultural fan, very tech-savvy."

Stern wonders if the strong viewership after this lockout compared with 1999 is partly the result of social media. Fans could stay connected with players and with news of the negotiations in a way they couldn't pre-Twitter.

"So in some ways, our community, through social media, was staying engaged, and that's a big differentiator in the way the world currently exists," the commissioner said.

And it's those tech-savvy young fans who are most comfortable staying engaged that way.

"In our research, we look at people and they're not just watching on TV," Byers said. "They've got their iPhone out, their iPad out. It's very important not only to think about the marketing partnership in terms of pulling in consumers but in how they are going to consume."

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