The NBA’s TV ratings have been dropping ever since the league returned to action from its brief suspension of play. There has been a lot of conjecture regarding the cause, with little evidence offered either way.
Some have pointed to changing consumer habits as to why the numbers are plummeting, while others maintain it has to do with the NBA’s increased politicization.
Last week, a Harris Poll aimed to get to the root of the issue. The agency reached out to almost 2,000 people and gave them 10 choices to select from on why they are watching less NBA action.
Respondents were permitted to choose more than one answer.
“The league has become too political” ultimately was the top reason why the people surveyed said they were tuning out, capturing 38 percent of the vote.
After that came “Boring without fans,” which got 28 percent of the vote.
“China” rounded out the top three, pulling in 19 percent of the vote.
It probably isn’t a huge shock based on the results of the polling, but NBA viewership is also incredibly divided based on party lines.
Among the people polled, 48 percent of Democrats “actively follow” the NBA, while only 34 percent of Republicans say the same.
That gap between the two parties is the biggest of any sport.
Harris has been a respected name in polling for more than 50 years, so while the sample size of this particular survey leaves something to be desired, its results should not be dismissed.
LeBron kept it 100% honest. https://t.co/y9igbCQxel
— Game 7 (@game7__) September 7, 2020
Although many within the league and several of its more notable partners have tried to minimize the NBA’s ratings decline for personal reasons, the numbers speak for themselves.
Despite the NBA Playoffs being in full swing and all the games having actual, genuine meaning, TV ratings for the first round were down 27 percent year over year.
Now, that doesn’t mean the NBA is currently going completely unwatched or the league is going out of business. It just means that a sport which is an immensely popular topic of conversation on social media is seemingly having a bit of trouble converting that conversation to an actual TV audience.
This past Sunday night an airing of Game 2 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets reached 3.69 million viewers. It ranked behind 60 Minutes and America’s Funniest Home Videos on the daily TV chart, but ahead of Big Brother.
Game 2 also finished tops among adults 18 to 49.
All of that is good, and should be included in the conversation. But it doesn’t wash away the bad.
Last Friday’s Eastern Conference semifinal showdown between the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat drew 2.22 million viewers and 0.85 in the demo. A sub-1.0 demo rating for the NBA at this stage of the season, with the playoffs ongoing, is an objective disaster.
Odell responds. https://t.co/7LNImKnoCq
— Game 7 (@game7__) September 8, 2020
Somehow, over the past few weeks, what should be an impartial and data-based conversation regarding the NBA’s declining ratings has turned into a political talking point. Inevitably when that happens people begin to cherry pick the facts they want to believe, while dismissing the ones they don’t.
In one sense that is good for the NBA. If everyone was in agreement regarding what they were doing wrong, and the league still was unable to fix the matter, it would have a very difficult time explaining that. Because everyone is so divided regarding the ratings, the confusion can be used for cover.
That being said, the NBA still needs its ratings to go up. Eventually the excuses will run out and the numbers will speak for themselves even louder than they already have.
Ten years ago basketball looked to be on the verge of giving the NFL a serious run for its money domestically and challenging soccer overseas. Now the idea of either of those things happening seems like a pipe dream.
If the NBA doesn’t solve its viewership problems soon, it may quickly reach a low from which there is no returning.
Charles Kruger has been credentialed to cover two Super Bowls, four NBA Finals, and one World Series. A 20-year veteran in the sports world, he has sources spanning the NBA, MLB, NFL, UFC and NASCAR. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Calif., he is Game 7’s go-to source for rumors surrounding the Lakers, Clippers and Dodgers.