The NBA’s viewership woes have been discussed ad nauseam over the past few months. By now, everyone knows that this year’s ratings have sunk by more than 50 percent.
It is no secret that Games 2 and 3 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, which did 6.1 million viewers and 5.9 million viewers, respectively, touched all-time lows.
But the one thing the NBA has been hanging its hat on throughout is who has been watching. Young people, folks in major metropolitan cities, individuals in the key demo – that is who the league has been selling as its core.
Interestingly enough, that audience is way down for the NBA as well.
This year’s Finals did 1.9 million in the demo for Game 4 on Tuesday night, and 1.5 million in the demo for Game 3 on Sunday night.
For context, last year, Game 4 of the 2019 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors did a 3.6 in the demo. Prior to that, Game 3 did 3.8 in the demo.
Even if you discount overall ratings, the NBA is very clearly losing viewership among its most prized audience group.
Even the lowest demo numbers from 2019’s Finals trump the 2.1 that 2020’s Game 1 did.
By any objective measure, the NBA has a problem on its hands.
And it’s not just a TV issue.
A fascinating analysis done on Reddit breaks down just how significantly the conversation surrounding the NBA has fallen on the r/NBA subreddit, despite its size having grown from 400,000 users in 2016 to 3.6 million in 2020.
This year, half as many people are commenting on game days as in years past.
That is a startling decline.
One big reason cited for why NBA ratings have fallen in recent months is the continued evolution of streaming – both legal and illegal. Some maintain that interest in basketball is not down, but rather the way it is being consumed has changed.
That no doubt plays some role in the league’s dwindling ratings numbers, but as evidenced by the numbers above, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Overall interest is clearly down.
Why does any of this matter? Because it influences everything.
Yikes Tyler Herro. https://t.co/LX84mxEocZ
— Game 7 (@game7__) October 7, 2020
When less people watch the games, when there is less interest in the product, there is a corresponding effect that trickles all the way through. Revenue drops, salary caps decrease, teams and superstars become more limited in the things they can do. It is all interconnected.
In 2014, ESPN and TNT signed a nine-year deal to broadcast NBA games that was worth $2.66 billion annually. The idea behind that agreement was that the NBA would continue to grow bigger and bigger.
That hasn’t quite happened.
Recently released PricewaterhouseCoopers research shows that rather than increasing, revenue growth in sports is likely to dip by 3.3 percent over the next three to five years. For comparison’s sake, over the past three to five years the average growth has been 8.0 percent.
The NBA is going to get hit hard by that. Very hard.
The 2020 season is obviously pretty much done. Nothing can be done to repair the damage at this point. It will go down as a historically under-watched run and everyone will move on.
However, the NBA needs to figure out where to go from here. Ratings cannot continue on this trajectory.
Why do bad things happen to good people. https://t.co/NRSKvX1j7f
— Game 7 (@game7__) October 3, 2020
Maybe the league needs to find a workaround for streaming issues. Perhaps the politics need to be toned down. Even the actual basketball product, what’s happening on the floor, may need to be tinkered with.
But something needs to be done. If changes don’t come quickly, the league may soon find itself past the point of no return.
A longtime sports reporter, Carlos Garcia has written about some of the biggest and most notable athletic events of the last 5 years. He has been credentialed to cover MLS, NBA and MLB games all over the United States. His work has been published on Fox Sports, Bleacher Report, AOL and the Washington Post.