Why the narrative about declining NBA ratings is wrong
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida - The NBA has been recognized by critics and certain sects of the media for its drop in ratings, although it's not the only league to suffer from a drop in audience numbers.
"I think [kneeling] was terrible for basketball," President Donald Trump said on Fox Sports Radio in August. “Look at the basketball ratings. They are due to a very low number. You have enough politics with people like me. You don't need any more while they are rising for the shot. The NBA was also as evil as it was made. The NBA is in trouble. Great difficulties. Bigger problems than they understand. "
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently argued over NBA TV audience ratings on Twitter, but the numbers show all sports are on the decline.
Yes, the NBA Finals are down 48 percent from last year, but there are a number of factors that contribute to this. Adjusting the ratings is not an isolated matter.
A number of observers have suggested that players talking about racial inequality and kneeling for the national anthem during press conferences and the social justice messages on the back of their shirts had a negative impact on the league's brand and ratings during the NBA's restart.
The Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was even blamed for the drop in viewership for willingness to speak freely.
LeBron James and the Lakers are a win from an NBA title. (AP Photo / Mark J. Terrill)
But the MLB playoffs (down 39 percent), the NFL playoffs (down 14 percent), the NHL playoffs (down 25 percent), and the Stanley Cup finals (down 61 percent) all saw a drop in ratings.
These burglaries seem to be overlooked because they don't fit the narrative that a league made up mostly of black men who voice concerns about the judiciary and condemn systemic racism is bad for business.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the racial makeup of the NBA audience for this year's playoffs is the same as last year.
The audience for the 2020 NBA final in the first four games consists of 45 percent whites and 55 percent non-whites. In 2019 it was 46 percent white and 54 percent non-white. This suggests that the people who claim to turn off their TVs because of the social justice news are not the ones who turn on regularly at all.
Why is the NBA being targeted by political speakers trying to link social justice efforts to a drop in TV audience ratings? It's probably just that - politics - with race being an unfortunate touchstone in the discussion.
However, there are numerous factors that contribute to all major sporting leagues' ratings falling.
In unprecedented circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all played concurrently, giving fans a multitude of options. The NBA restart was done in the summer, which doesn't allow for a real valuation comparison from previous years as the league usually ends in June. And it's an intense election year with the president hospitalized with the coronavirus that dominated the news cycle.
Game 3 of the NBA Finals marked the first time a final game had ever competed with the NFL. Even so, the NBA is well positioned compared to the other sports leagues.
The average NBA seeding game on ESPN drew an audience (1.2 million viewers) larger than the average game of the 2020 MLB regular season on the same network (749,000). The average NBA playoff game on ESPN / TNT (2.1 million viewers) drew an audience more than three times the size of the NHL playoff audience on NBC Sports (651,000 viewers).
Game 5 of the NBA Finals is at 9 p.m. ET Friday on ABC.
Despite the selective rhetoric denouncing the NBA for not silencing its players, the federation's central figure believes that promoting open social discussions without punishment for issues affecting people and communities was the right call.
"There are a lot of fans, especially given all the current events in the world, who see the sport as a breathing space," said NBA commissioner Adam Silver in his speech at the NBA final last week. "My answer is to listen again. And I understand that point of view too. But these are unique times and I think that under the circumstances I am still firmly convinced that this was and is the right thing to do."
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