NBA Finals Ratings Were the Lowest in League History

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

NBA finals ratings are in, and they’re not good.

Similar to the NHL, the league saw a huge drop off in eyeballs on the product, resulting in what amounts to the lowest number since data first became available in the 1980s.

This year’s series between the Lakers and Heat saw a 50% drop across the board, according to Ryan Glasspiegel at Outkick, who shared this graphic comparing the Nielsen numbers from 2020 to last year’s finals (in millions):

Sunday night’s Vikings/Seahawks game drew 11.4 million viewers while going up against the deciding game six.

For some context, last year’s game six between the Warriors and Raptors pulled about 18 million viewers. In 2018, when Golden State swept Cleveland, viewership never dipped below 16 million.

Looking through the data, you’d have to go back to 2007 to find the last time the numbers fell below nine million viewers, when game three of the Spurs/Cavs sweep pulled a 5.6 share, amounting to about 8.5 million sets of eyeballs. That was the previously lowest-rated finals series in recorded history.

We all know what the deal is here –

  1. There wasn’t a lot of juice for a Lakers/Heat series. Miami is a great team but doesn’t have the star power of other squads.
  2. Playing games without fans just makes this less exciting and less intriguing for casuals.
  3. No league can compete with the NFL.
  4. Baseball playoffs are also underway.
  5. There are some people who tuned out because of the social and political messages.

 

There’s no real way to parse #5. Without advanced polling, there’s no indication of how much Black Lives Matter and other messages turned off conservative and/or white viewers. I know a handful of people who refuse to watch the games, and you probably do also, so they do exist. That’s not a myth, though politicians getting on Twitter to rip the NBA without any kind of actual data confirming what they’re saying is corny.

The main factor, I think, is that it’s just hard to get people amped for bubble sports that bleed into football season. The NHL had two non-hockey markets in Dallas and Tampa playing, and while the NBA managed to benefit from Los Angeles being there, COVID-19 is just putting a damper on overall sports excitement. Ratings are down in every sport, and I don’t doubt that interest will increase next season when fans are in the building and organic intrigue comes back around. It’s just hard to sell casuals on a couple of teams playing in an empty arena on the Disney campus, especially during school season in the middle of a global pandemic.

It is what it is.

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