After a summer full of anticipation, LeBron James made his Los Angeles Lakers debut on Saturday against the Houston Rockets.
By the end of the game, the final score was only a side note to the effect that James instantly had on not only the Lakers but the NBA. Whether fans are in favor of James move out west is still up in the air, one fan of the move for certain is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the leagues front office.
According to Nielsen reports, ESPN, the network that broadcasted James home-opener generated its best NBA opening week rating since 2014. ESPN says the Lakers vs. Rockets telecast drew a 2.5 metered market rating, also making it the highest-rated NBA regular season game on ESPN since the Golden State Warriors 73rd win game in April of 2016. To put this into perspective, the Warriors vs. the Utah Jazz game on Friday generated a 1.8 metered market rating, impressive but still trailing in comparison to James and the Lakers.
Neither Bellator 207 or Bellator 208 cracked the top 10 for social ratings last week according to Nielsen. Top five was all football and two LA Lakers games (LeBron). 3 baseball playoff games rounded out the last spots in the top 10. pic.twitter.com/6pWms5ErrF
— Damon Martin (@DamonMartin) October 15, 2018
While the Lakers fanbase is one of the biggest in all of sports and the team would have likely still had higher than average numbers without James, the effect the 33-year-old has on the sport has been unmatched throughout his career. In James’ return to Cleveland during the 2014-2015 season, the Cavs played the New York Knicks in a game that game pulled a 2.6 rating with an average of 4 million viewers. The telecast was up 117 percent in U.S. household ratings compared to overall regular season ratings on TNT according to Forbes.
Not only are viewers flipping the channels to find James on tv, but the Ohio native is also still continuing to put fans in the seats. At the Staples Center, ticket prices are up 427 percent over last season according to StubHub. The average ticket price for the Lakers and Rockets game was approximately $934.
“When the Lakers come into different markets, we are seeing a massive pop,” said Scott Jablonski, StubHub’s general manager of the NHL, NFL and NBA. “It’s been one of the bigger things we’ve seen.”
Once those fans are in the arena the James effect doesn’t stop. CNBC says that the Lakers sold double the amount of merchandise compared to last season in their first two pre-season games at the Staples Center.
“The overwhelming demand for Lakers tickets and the jersey sales on eBay is a testament to the value of star power on a team, with fans excited to see LeBron in his new home,” said Jablonski. “It’s not often that we see a 427 percent spike in demand for a team that already led sales the season before. There are only a handful of athletes in the world who can make an impact on ticket demand like LeBron can.”
In his 16th season in the NBA James has earned approximately $270 million in salary alone during his career, according to Spotrac. While $270 million can make James the envy of many, that salary pales in comparison to what he has indirectly given back to the league and the cities in which he played.