NBA TV ratings plummet by double digits as interest wanes, insiders say

Sam Amico

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)."

Comments (22)
No. 1-16
gjguest
gjguest

Mostly because of the imbalance in teams. I watch the Cavs because they are my team, win or lose. I don't watch any other NBA because they just aren't worth my time. You have a few super teams and the rest of the league. Their salary structure is way out of wack. And their actual Basketball skills are not what basketball is supposed to be. At least not what I want to watch. Euro ball is much better to watch. They pass the ball and no ISO ball.

JimBLloyd
JimBLloyd

totally agree

Charlee
Charlee

If they would check their politics at the gym door, it would be a lot easier to watch. I watch sports and no for social sermons.

older
older

I remember basketball years ago when it was more of a game and not such a business. perhaps when they get off their knees, ill watch again, not before.

Lloydb19
Lloydb19

I am a lifelong basketball fan. But as long as the players are taking a knee and are too interested in the political stuff that’s going on in the world. I will not be tuning in till they decide to get off their knees and play basketball everybody’s entitled to their political views but you don’t do it at work

Balller30
Balller30

I stopped watching. Its' the hypocrisy I can't stand, selective social justice warrior? If the injustice happens in China and done on Asians they're silent about it.

jamie867
jamie867

I am so sick of the disrespect for our country. I will not watch.

Giblite52
Giblite52

If I want politics, I’ll watch the news. I’ll tune in when they stand for the flag ... I hope the NFL is paying attention

PNW2020
PNW2020

Not watching anymore. We get enough social/political opinions shoved in our face Everyday as it is, don’t need it from sports too. Be professionals and check the political opinions at the door, save them for when you’re not at work.

dsraup
dsraup

I sadly have to end my 50 year fandom w the NBA. Reasons? The disrespectful kneeling to the flag and anthem to the veterans who died for our freedoms. (Including earning millions of $$ playing a kids game). On top of that endorsing, promoting a Marxist organization, B.L.M., that has hijacked the much needed cause for
police reform is baffling.
The last hypocritical last straw was groveling toward CCP while abandoning freedom rights of the Hong Kong protesters.
Adam Silver and the owners have no clue yet the nerve they hit with patriotic USA fans. Wake up NBA!

Watching NHL
Watching NHL

It is hard to take "activists" seriously who support a repressive totalitarian regime in China.

GK Chesterton
GK Chesterton

Y'all nailed it with hypocrisy. Jason Whitlock, GREAT sports writer, calling out LeBron and others--if they really cared about black lives in this country, they would tell Nike, Under Armour, etc. that they'll no longer sponsor their products unless they stop manufacturing their products in Chinese sweatshops, and bring some jobs back to US cities. Do they? Of course not. They don't dare put their money where their mouth is--instead they just preach at viewers with their virtue signaling, and then get richer from Nike selling shoes at ridiculous prices to inner city kids who look up to these men with huge bank accounts and tiny characters. Then to look like saints, they build a few basketball courts in parks in bad neighborhoods. How about some LIBRARIES and JOBS? All just shameless self promotion to sell their brand, sell their products, and keep the repressive regime in China happy. It's disgusting. I'm done.

Knight Guardian
Knight Guardian

I'm done with professional sports. All of it. You're all suck up to China who sells human body parts and treat their own people like scum.

And you don't support America. Sorry BLM is a horrible organization and does NOTHING for blacks and only makes life worse for them.

ta182
ta182

I will never watch sports ago regardless of which one until they check politics and social issues. I watched sport for the love of the game. Politics do not belong you are paid to play a sport do that and protest on you own time. I will boycott all sports until politics are gone and they just play the sport. Plenty of other stuff to watch.

SteveGaylord
SteveGaylord

Until I see Mickelson or Tiger take a knee, golf is and will be the only sport I will follow.

YSTEWART
YSTEWART

Must be nice..your white privilege can call it politics. Black people call it life and death.

1 Reply

Oh Really
Oh Really

You don't have an answer, so it's White Privilege! The majority of Black people consider themselves Americans with black skin and appreciate life as it is in this country!


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