NBA TV ratings plummet by double digits as interest wanes, insiders say
Editor's note: This story was updated Monday, Aug. 3.
National television viewership for NBA games has nosedived 12 percent since the end of the season compared to 2018-19, according to a report from Sports Business Daily.
The league has suffered ratings declines for several years running, and while many point to LeBron James' move West to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019, the reasons are many.
Twenty-two teams have resumed the season in Orlando, but even that only resulted in a slight increase in viewership over the weekend, industry insiders told SI on Monday.
Ratings for NBA return games involving James and the Lakers have met the networks' high hopes, sources said, though broadcasts of games involving other teams have produced mostly poor national ratings.
No matter how you spin it, the league is all but ensured a ratings drop for the second year in a row.
ABC ratings are down a whopping 16 percent, and that's the network that carries the Finals. "ABC, in particular, was hurt by lower numbers on Christmas and a slower start for its Saturday night slate," Sports Business Daily reported.
Meanwhile, TNT viewership is down 13 percent and ESPN is down 10 percent.
While Sports Business Daily didn't report on regional sports networks, an industry insider told SI.com that FOX Sports Ohio telecasts of Cavaliers games have only taken "a slight ratings dip," despite the team's 14-40 record at the All-Star Break.
Nationally, industry insiders believe that all of this is the league going through a rough stretch in popularity after plateauing four or five years ago.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the sagging TV ratings in December.
“I’m not surprised that our ratings are down thus far,” Silver said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’m not concerned, either. In terms of every other key indicator that we look at that measures the popularity of the league, we’re up.
"We’re up in attendance over a record-setting high from last year. Social media engagement remains in the magnitude of 1.6 billion people on a global basis. Our League Pass viewership is up. Our merchandising sales are up.
"The issue then, for me, is that we’re going through a transition in terms of how [the league] is distributed to our fans, particularly our young fans.”
One insider brushed off those comments as Silver "doing what he should do and acting like everything is fine."
In reality, the insider said, "The league has growing concern. This goes beyond TV ratings. The league does remain a popular brand overseas. But it has hit hard times among sports fans here (in the United States)."