Last Christmas my favorite gift was the book, “Basketball for Dummies.” My family thought I needed it because my 13-year-old son has been playing basketball since kindergarten, wears a size 13 shoe and at 6-1 is already towering over me—all clear indicators that he might one day be a truly viable force on the court. So it only makes sense that I actually understand what I’m watching when he’s out there, instead of simply marveling at how he can move with such alacrity with a ball in his hands, but take three days to unload and reload a dishwasher. Xbox 360 NBA 2K10 is as much a part of our home’s viewing culture as the “Housewives of Atlanta” is. In spite of all this I know virtually squat about basketball (I only made it through two chapters of the book). What I do know is when an average of 9.9 million people pay attention to something, I should be paying attention, too.
According to my employer, The Nielsen Co., the largest market research company in the world, an average of 9.9 million people in the U.S. watched LeBron James choose the Miami Heat as his next basketball family. I’m familiar with LeBron because my son did a research paper on how he went straight to the NBA electing to skip college. As soon as I read his report—which received an A by the way—I started praying, “Lord, please don’t let my child want to emulate this LeBron person’s decision to skip college.” It’s hard enough to convince a young lad that the way to get ahead in life is through a college education. But when he can trump you with an ESPN card and at its peak the ESPN broadcast was seen by 13.1 million viewers—the task becomes doubly hard. Trying to point out “this rich Black athlete who didn’t go to college is an exception, not the rule…yada, yada,” falls on deaf ears. Especially when your athlete is convinced, he himself has “skills, ma!”
While Nielsen provides measurement services in multiple industries including online, mobile and consumer packaged goods, most people’s ears still perk up when we mention “TV ratings.” The ESPN broadcast is no exception. Here’s what we know about how well the show did (and keep in mind that ratings are the percentage of TV homes in the U.S. tuned into television):
Local market rankings for the telecast were well represented by the cities who most coveted LeBron’s services. His former hometown Cleveland topped all other markets with a 26.0 local household rating, followed by nearby Columbus, with a 14.2 rating. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale won the LeBron Sweepstakes, but placed third in the local rankings with a 12.8 rating. Chicago, whose Bulls were in the running until the very end, placed sixth (10.7 local household rating), while a disappointed New York market placed seventh (10.4 local rating).
LeBron’s announcement was one of the more memorable televised news events featuring a prominent professional athlete. It’s great that an African-American athlete commanded such national attention. But it makes our jobs raising African-American children (sons in particular) slightly more difficult when college isn’t part of the success equation. Nielsen reports that 17.8 percent of Blacks have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Compare that to nearly half (49.8 percent) of Asian Americans who have degrees from a four-year college, and you can see we have a ways to go.
Recently, another African-American athlete drew nearly 22 million viewers across 18 networks on Feb. 19, 2010. Ah, but wait, that was Tiger Woods in his first live public statement since the flood of reports on his extramarital affairs. (Sigh). Tiger is also incredibly wealthy. But he at least finished two years at Stanford. So press on dear parents, press on. A college education is still relevant. We must empower our kids to stay the course. While they may not attract millions of viewers on TV, they’ll certainly have us cheering them on. And isn’t that just as important?