NBA ratings are continuing to decline despite games becoming increasingly more important. The troubling trend is extending to Game 7s, previously the most highly-anticipated events in all of basketball.
This past Friday, Game 7 between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors averaged 4.69 million viewers on TNT. While that total was the NBA’s best showing in a long time, it was still down 32 percent from Game 7 between the Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers last year.
It was also the lowest viewership total for a second-round Game 7 since 2004.
Although numbers are occasionally ticking upwards as it pertains to certain individual games, year-over-year TV numbers are still down big.
The NBA is no longer in a place where it can point to outings being unimportant as an excuse for poor viewership – the Conference Finals are here. It is these games, then the finals, and then it’s over.
On Sunday, Game 6 between the Clippers and Nuggets drew 1.3 million viewers – albeit, facing intense competition from the NFL.
Across CBS and FOX the NFL drew 27 million viewers on Sunday morning.
Prior to Game 7 between Toronto and Boston last Friday night, the Clippers and Nuggets played Game 5 of their series. In total, they averaged 2.56 million viewers.
One day earlier, on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets played the second least watched NBA game of the week, pulling in 2.496 million viewers compared to the 20.535 million viewers that tuned in for the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans game that aired on NBC that night.
Football returning will certainly not help the NBA, but it was routinely losing to other sporting events anyway.
President Donald Trump recently pointed to increased social justice awareness as a cause of problems for the NBA.
“I don’t know much about the NBA protest,” he said.
“I know their ratings have been very bad, because I think people are a little tired of the NBA frankly. But I don’t know too much about the protest, but I know their ratings have been very bad, and that’s unfortunate. They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing. I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or the country.”
Which naturally led to a response from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has been defiant that ratings are not in trouble.
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) September 3, 2020
The truth, of course, is somewhere in between.
President Trump is likely right about politics playing some role in people tuning out (which polls have confirmed), but still overstating it to some degree.
Along the same lines, Cuban is cherry-picking favorable stats to highlight the NBA’s ratings strengths, while downplaying weaknesses.
The big problem for the NBA right now isn’t the fact that there are no potential excuses for why ratings are low.
It could be competition from other sports, cord-cutting, politics or some combination of the three.
The problem for the NBA is that it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that in the midst of the league’s most important games of the year, it still cannot garner the audience it used to pull regularly.
Until Commissioner Adam Silver figures out how to resolve that dilemma, the NBA will continue to lose its one-time standing as the future of what all sports leagues should strive to be like.