Zion Williamson’s highly-anticipated debut for the New Orleans Pelicans, in a nationally-televised prime-time game against the San Antonio Spurs on January 22, is expected to give the National Basketball Association a timely television ratings boost.
When it was announced last week that the No 1. pick in the 2019 NBA Draft would make his regular-season debut against the Spurs, the game was picked up by ESPN, with the tip-off time moved back to 9.30pm Eastern Time.
The former Duke University superstar is expected to start the game following a knee injury that has kept him out thus far in his debut NBA season.
Around 130 media members are expected to attend the game, which is about 100 more than usual for a normal midweek game in the Smoothie King Center against a small-market team like the Spurs. The 17,000-capacity arena in downtown New Orleans, meanwhile, is expected to be sold out, with average ticket prices rising by an incredible 1,000 per cent last week, according to event ticket search engine TicketIQ.
“It’s great for New Orleans and the league for sure,” ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “They are playing well right now and you add him, and he comes in and plays effectively and they have a chance to make the playoffs. He’s going to drive a lot of interest.”
Williamson’s return comes amid sinking TV ratings for the NBA so far this season, which has come following injuries to a number of star players including Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving.
The incredible pulling power of Williamson was further proven last week when it was announced that the 19-year-old had the 15th top-selling jersey based on NBA Store sales from October-December 2019 despite not playing a single minute thus far in the 2019-20 NBA season. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, not surprisingly, topped the most popular jersey and team merchandise lists.
In September, it was announced that the Pelicans had sold more than 12,000 season-ticket equivalents for the 2019-20 season, thanks in large part to the arrival of Williamson. Not only was it the highest number of season tickets that the franchise had sold in more than a decade, the Pelicans also jumped to the top half of the NBA in terms of total sales.