NBA Ratings Are In Free Fall While the Players Forget What They Do for a Living

AP Photo/Kyle Phillips
 (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

 

It might be time to focus on something besides your pet activist causes – like the game you are paid to play…?

There has been a lot of news coming out of the NBA the past couple of weeks. Following their return to play on courts with BLM insignia and jerseys monogrammed with social causes the players decided to halt play last week in response to the Kenosha riots in Wisconsin, LeBron James is spearheading a get-out-the-vote organization, teams want to convert their arenas to polling stations, and there is still the specter of involvement with China looming in the background. LeBron even came forward with comments about the Goodyear Tire uproar.

Notice how few people are talking about actual basketball. 

The NBA has become fully entrenched in the wokeness of our times, and not too surprisingly the league is falling prey to a common reality businesses are encountering when delving into the social activist side of things. As the players returned to play on Thursday the league entered into its playoff schedule and the games have seen a significant drop in ratings.

The playoff games saw a stark loss of -20% over last season’s playoff debuts across a number of networks. More telling, it was a larger drop in the key demo of 18-49 year olds, down -28%. This follows a trend that has been experienced since the league started its season back up last month. While team owners and many others want to attribute this to pandemic influences it also defies some of the realities coming into the playoffs.

There has been a noted dampened interest to the return to play, and this was made all the more worrisome for league officials considering the conditions. With fans trapped home in the pandemic you have more of a potential audience, and that is one that had been denied their sport for months. Factor in that fans cannot attend games and you have an even higher level of viewing interest expected. Instead there has been more apathy realized, and more people are looking at the in your face activism from the past months.

What has to have the league executives worried is that the NBA has seen the lowest ratings in nearly a decade. The numbers are off a staggering -45% since the 2011 season. At The Atlantic Ethan Strauss looked at the matter and said a number of factors would have to contribute to a steep drop in support, noting the pandemic was a minimal influence. In fact, when the league restarted play everyone anticipated extremely high figures as a result of pent-up enthusiasm and a captive audience.

Strauss notes that there has been a regular messaging critical of this country coming from the players, coaches, and even from the broadcast booth. This has taken a league that is already suffering from the loss in ticket revenues and driven away an audience at a time when it not only was counting on a larger viewer base, but needing it. And if the league officials want to dismiss this as an anomaly due to the pandemic it means they are only extending the misery of their own making.

The NBA was suffering a loss of audience back in February, before the shutdown due to Covid-19 outbreaks, and Strauss makes the uncomfortable notice of the cause. In an interview with Slate Magazine about the declining viewership he noted that the drop in ratings seen in February was in direct response to the China controversy that flared up at that time.

I think it’s completely obvious to people who aren’t in the bubble. You have your most precipitous drop this last year after [the NBA’s response to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s comments about] China. I mean an absolute free fall, where you’re losing double digits on the national ratings, double digits on the local ratings. 

That is when the NBA is hitting the news for people who are not necessarily completely engaged. And I think that when you talk to a lot of people who aren’t within media, people maybe where their politics don’t line up 100 percent with what’s being evinced, yeah, a lot of people are turned off by it.

You even saw this manifested when LeBron James made one of his now regular social stance interviews. James made a bold declaration when Goodyear Tire was under fire for banning employees from political expressions but declared Black Lives Matter to be an acceptable subject. Since the company is located in Akron, Ohio James felt the need to comment on President Trump’s critical words about the company.

 “I know my people of Akron and what Goodyear means to our city. One thing about us, we don’t bend, fold or break for nobody. Shout out and salute to all the workers.”

Except when he made that statement he was met with more pushback than support. Many on social media and elsewhere pointed out how LeBron was among those who capitulated to China when that controversy blew up on the league one year ago. James and the NBA certainly bowed to the Chi-Coms.

It becomes another example of the players boldly kneeling and the fans calmly walking away.