Ben Strauss of The Athletic takes a deep dive into the television ratings for this year’s NBA conference finals. He finds that the ratings themselves took a deep dive:
[T]hese were two of the least-watched conference finals series ever, despite featuring the league’s most famous player (LeBron James) on the league’s most famous franchise (the Lakers). It happened despite Nielsen using “Out of Home” viewership for the first time ever at the start of September, which likely goosed NBA numbers between seven and 12 percent.
As explained here, the traditional ratings method only counted TVs in households towards the overall numbers. The “Out of Home” method also counts TVs in hospitals, airports, restaurants and offices. Naturally, this method generates better ratings.
Even with this welcome OOH bump, a Lakers-involved Western Conference Finals could not crack 5 million viewers in any game, averaging 4.46 million. For perspective, every one of Kobe Bryant’s 41 conference finals games cracked 5 million, including a Game 7 clincher over the Kings in 2002 that reached a staggering 23.796 million on NBC.
For additional perspective, the 2019 conference finals, a drama-free Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers, drew over 7 million viewers in every game and averaged 7.75 million. That’s a 40 percent viewership drop between 2019 and 2020, despite 2020 suddenly getting the benefit of having out-of-home viewers counted toward its total. As in, the fall-off is likely greater than 40 percent, we just aren’t sure by how much.
For additional perspective, Tucker Carlson’s show draws 4 to 5 million viewers a night, according to this report by Strauss from early September. Moreover, the Lakers-Nuggets conference finals in 2009 averaged 8.68 million viewers, without an OOH bump. Viewership this year was about half of what it was eleven years ago.
It’s true that this year, some of the LA-Denver games went up against the NFL. That doesn’t happen with the NBA playoffs in a normal year. However:
On Saturday night, the sports slate was pretty clear for the Lakers clinching their first trip to the Finals in a decade and the viewership still couldn’t crack 5 million. All told, Lakers-Nuggets 2020 qualifies as the second-least-watched Western Conference finals on record.
The Eastern Conference finals were also a ratings disaster. Says Strauss:
You would have gotten long odds on betting that a Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference finals, with an OOH bump, would draw fewer viewers than the 2019 Bucks-Raptors conference finals. The 2019 conference finals featured a tiny market and a team whose Canadian fanbase isn’t counted by Nielsen. And yet, Bucks-Raptors averaged 5.66 million compared to the 2020 Celts-Heat tallied at a 3.93 million average. That’s a 30 percent drop between 2020 and 2019.
The 2020 Eastern Conference finals was more impacted by football than the Western finals. If we toss out the games that went up against football, we are left with a 4.165 million average for Celtics-Heat. That’s rather remarkable for a series involving two marquee markets.
Even adjusting for football, these are the least watched conference finals on record. If there’s a less watched one, it probably predates the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era.
What’s the explanation for these remarkably poor numbers? It isn’t cord cutting, illegal streaming, etc. That’s been going on for a few years. Yet just two years ago, the seven game Warriors-Rockets Western Conference final averaged 9.47 million viewers. The other conference final, James’ Cavaliers against the Celtics, averaged of 8.53 million viewers.
I think the explanation for plummeting viewership is fairly obvious, even if Strauss would rather not talk about it. Conservative America is disgusted with the NBA, and therefore is tuning it out. We’re disgusted with the way the league kowtows to China and even more disgusted with the embrace of the radical BLM movement by the league and its players.
I didn’t watch a minute of the playoffs this year and rarely even checked the scores. Not because of what many of the players think about the police and about America, in general, as slanderous as those views are. And not even because players made pro-BLM gestures before the games began.
My problem was what was allowed, indeed encouraged, during the games. I will not watch any sports event during which the preaching of politics or ideology occurs.
I guess I’m not alone.
Conservative America’s divorce from the NBA is a sign, I think, of things to come. Unless corporate America steps back from its embrace of woke leftism, we are going to have to divorce ourselves from large swathes of it. To the extent feasible, we may have to divorce ourselves from many of America’s public schools. And so forth.
Some of these divorces will be painful. The NBA divorce isn’t one of them — even for someone like me who has been an NBA fan for more than 60 years.