Victor Wembanyama and Connor Bedard Leave Huge Impact on NBA and NHL in Respective Debuts

Austin Ruzbarsky
Staff Writer

Both Victor Wembanyama and Connor Bedard have emerged as precocious talents in the world of basketball and hockey, respectively, capturing the attention of sports enthusiasts, experts, and the general public. Their impact has been instrumental in elevating early season interest in their respective sports, generating fervor and enthusiasm among fans and pundits alike.
Victor Wembanyama, a towering young basketball prodigy from France, drafted #1 by the San Antonio Spurs, has been a captivating figure in the basketball landscape. At a remarkable 7’2’’ with exceptional skills, Wembanyama, at a tender age, exhibits an impressive array of talents on the court. His versatility, shot-blocking prowess, and agility defy his age, drawing comparisons to some of the sport’s elite players. Wembanyama’s early successes and performances in various youth tournaments and leagues have sparked considerable intrigue and excitement within the basketball community. His emergence on the scene has created a buzz and anticipation for his potential impact at higher levels of the sport, contributing significantly to the burgeoning interest in basketball.
For the NBA, Wembanyama’s debut has given the league the attention it was hoping for with the addition of a generational talent going to one of the NBA’s most historic franchises in San Antonio.

Victor Wembanyama in his NBA debut against the Dallas Mavericks (Christian Peterson/Getty Images)

Wembanyama’s debut aired on ESPN in the back half of ESPN’s first Wednesday night doubleheader of the season and first of two doubleheaders ESPN aired during that week, the second coming that Friday night. The game between San Antonio and the Dallas Mavericks (with two superstars of their own in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving) averaged 2.99 million viewers during its broadcast (Sports Media Watch). That was ESPN’s highest viewed Opening Week broadcast since Opening Week 2018 for a matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets (Sports Media Watch). That game featured LeBron James’s Lakers debut. Not only was the game ESPN’s most popular Opening Week matchup since 2018, it outperformed the Opening Night doubleheader on TNT the previous night, which featured the defending champions Denver Nuggets taking on the Lakers followed by the new-look squads of the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns facing off. That is the first time an Opening Week game that was not on Opening Night outperformed both Opening Night games since LeBron’s Lakers debut in 2018. The Opening Night games faced an usual level of competition this year as well, with both games up against the winner-take-all Game 7 of Major League Baseball’s National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks, which drew solid ratings. Comparing Wembanyama’s debut to other notable debuts, that game heavily outperformed Zion Williamson’s January 2020 debut with the New Orleans Pelicans by .63 million viewers (Sports Media Watch). Wembanyama’s debut barely fell short of LeBron’s 2003 NBA debut by a mere .04 million viewers (Sports Media Watch). The NBA should be very excited about Wembanyama’s impact on national television audiences as the league’s current national television contract ends after next season, and the NBA is looking towards a potential record-breaking television deal that could eclipse all other pro sports leagues around the world.

On the other hand, Connor Bedard, who was also drafted #1 by the Chicago Blackhawks, a highly-touted hockey talent from Canada, has been making waves in the hockey world. Despite his young age, Bedard’s exceptional skills, hockey sense, and goal-scoring abilities have quickly set him apart. His early performances in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and representation of Canada at the international level have been nothing short of spectacular. Bedard’s ability to impact games and display maturity beyond his years has drawn attention not only from hockey enthusiasts but also from seasoned professionals in the sport. His knack for creating scoring opportunities and contributing to his team’s success has ignited excitement and optimism among fans and experts, elevating the early season interest in hockey.

Connor Bedard in his NHL debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins (Jeanine Leech/Icon SportsWire/Getty Images)

Similar to Wembanyama, Bedard’s NHL debut brought increased attention to the NHL on Opening Night. The Blackhawks’ victory that night over the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by future Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby, was the highest watched NHL Opening Night game ever on cable with 1.43 million viewers beating the Opening Night matchup in 2021 between the Penguins and defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning (Sports Media Watch). The game set records even beyond just Opening Night for the NHL. It was the highest rated NHL regular season game that was not the Winter Classic (the NHL’s annual outdoor game that takes place on New Year’s Eve or Day in a football or baseball stadium) on cable ever, beating out a matchup between the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2000 which featured the retirement of Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. Bedard’s debut squeaked by that game by 0.07 million viewers. Unlike the NBA, the NHL just recently signed a new media rights deal but the NHL is seeing great returns on its recent TV deal with ESPN and TNT.

Both Wembanyama and Bedard exemplify a new generation of young athletes who are not only showcasing exceptional skill but are also reshaping perceptions about age and performance in professional sports. Their presence and early achievements have sparked debates, discussions, and anticipation about their potential trajectory in their respective sports.

The influence of Wembanyama and Bedard goes beyond their individual accomplishments. Their early success opens up discussions about youth development programs, training methodologies, and the growing impact of young athletes on the professional sports landscape. It is not merely their individual talents that capture attention but also the impact they have on the evolution of their respective sports.
The fascination surrounding Wembanyama and Bedard is indicative of the changing dynamics within the sports industry. They serve as a testament to the growing impact of young talent and the increasing emphasis on the development of promising athletes at a much earlier age.
In the best game of his young NBA career so far, Victor Wembanyama dropped 38 points, to go along with 10 rebounds and two blocks, powering the San Antonio Spurs to a 132-121 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Blackhawks’ young star Connor Bedard has been nothing short of impressive in his first NHL season. Throughout 10 games, the rookie leads the team in goals (5), points (7), points per game (1), shots (30), and is 3rd in time on ice/game (19:24).

In conclusion, the emergence of Victor Wembanyama in basketball and Connor Bedard in hockey has undeniably contributed to the heightened early-season interest in their respective sports. Their extraordinary talents, at such young ages, have captured the imagination of sports enthusiasts worldwide, fostering anticipation and excitement about their future contributions. Their presence heralds a new era in sports, setting the stage for the rise of prodigious talent and redefining the expectations and potential of young athletes in professional sports.

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