Compared to this point last year, the NBA ratings have seen a decline. Andrew Marchand reported yesterday TNT is seeing a daunting 22 percent declined and ESPN is down at five percent. This may come as a surprise to some, or many, because unlike when the NFL ratings slipped, the media–at least in terms of coverage on television and outside of media-focused reporters–has largely ignored it.
For nearly the entire 2016 and 2017 NFL season, the decline in viewership was a topic of conversation on sports and news platforms. It led to many media members using their platforms to bash professional football. It became open season on the NFL as to why it saw these declines. Political views and opinions often shaped which causes were blamed.
Aside from the most discussed cause of the NFL’s two-year decline–related to Trump’s comments and player protests–we also heard the sport had become soft, boring, tone-deaf, and a peaked product. Big name quarterbacks were injured and fallen stars diminish. Whether you agree with those accusations or not, – I agreed with some of them – it became the media vs. the NFL.
Undoubtedly, the NBA has become the media’s darling. It is covered the most positively and most frequently by the majority of general pundits and shows. Much of this has to do with so many sports shows featuring pro-NBA talents.
The NBA faces major dilemmas going forward. The first of which is also their biggest gem, LeBron James.
The NBA relies far too much on LeBron. With so many NBA fans only caring about a player as opposed to a league, city, or team the ratings have taken a hit this season. TNT has suffered from not having him on opening night, and both broadcast companies are feeling his recent injury as well as his move out west. His recent move to the Lakers has made it a major obstacle for those in the eastern time zone where nearly half the country lives in. At some point, the NBA will have to carry itself post-LeBron and the evidence is showing it is not promising.
The Warriors’ dominance did not hit the ratings negatively in the past two seasons. However, the NBA Finals with LeBron are always going to be more appealing to the masses than the alternative. Now that he is in the West, it is almost a foregone conclusion it will be the Warriors stomping on some team in the East. In addition, unless one buys into Kevin Durant foolishly leaving, this Warriors run looks far from over and that is not a good thing when it comes to regular season interest going forward. Last season showed the world really nothing matters in the regular season, because the Warriors (and LeBron a year ago with the Cavs) can just turn it on.
It would be a good bet part of the ratings decline is due to fans being turned off already knowing the result come this June. We are also entering a place where the non-stop NBA transactional rumors and moves are a detriment. Yes, they are so fun, but that doesn’t mean it will always be great for the NBA. It has really taken away from the attention on the court and, at some point, fans are going to find more enjoyment talking about what is going to happen in July than the game on television. This season, Kevin Durant’s impending free agency was the topic in the NBA weeks after the season tipped off.
All in all, the NBA is facing major issues going forward but, unlike the NFL, the media has mostly protected them. The season is still young, and ABC’s numbers are up five percent very early in their showings. but gut feeling, most of the intrigue from now until season’s end will not be taking place on the court.