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Why did the NBA Playoff TV Ratings Tank? Reason might surprise you

July 07, 2021 9 min read

Why did the NBA Playoff TV Ratings Tank?  Reason might surprise you

So the NBA season is finally over. I swear like we've been watching this thing for 10 years. Being in the autograph industry, having an interest in a league and interest in players and teams and all that kind of stuff is paramount for how well their memorabilia sells. You get obviously the great players, the hot teams, the hot players, those guys are selling very fast, and obviously the guys that suck don't sell, but when there's a lack of interest in a sport it definitely affects what I'm doing and it got me thinking. Why were the NBA playoff TV ratings so bad this year? I mean it was atrocious. I think more people watched my eight-year-old’s soccer games than watched the NBA playoffs. I personally didn't watch any of the games. I think I watched maybe the last few seconds of game six just by pure chance. I don't know what happened but we're going to go through a couple different reasons on possibly why those ratings were down and just kind of talk about it here for a little bit.

So first off let's run through some data so you can kind of understand where the NBA playoff ratings actually were. According to sports media watch the two conference finals series saw a TV rating decreased by 35% compared to a season ago. The conference finals averaged just 4.18 million viewers across ESPN and TNT. The NBA finals this year averaged 7.5 million viewers for a six game series. That's a 51% decline from the previous year. This is according to Bloomberg and there's a lot going into this. Some other statistics here about this. Americans have also been focused on the election, the coronavirus, and all that kind of stuff, and there's actually data to support that as well. There's the TV news networks like Fox and CNBC and all that kind of stuff. They've all had ratings up about 78% this year. Now that could be just because it's a typical election year and they're going to have more coverage anyway, but their ratings have been way up this year, obviously compared to the previous year. So why did all the ratings suck so bad?

Well let's talk about some possible reasons here. Number one, let's just get the elephant out of the room right off the bat. Again, I have no opinion on any of this stuff but it's worth mentioning. Did the political culture right now that's going on in the United States have any effect on the TV ratings? People are always threatening everybody in this country. Did it affect these numbers? Maybe a little bit. It's hard to say that they would drastically reduce it down by 51% so it's really hard to quantify the numbers. It's not like you can just run through some data and say “Why weren't you watching this?” Yes people do watch sports to kind of “escape and get off of their normal mental thinking patterns” and have some entertainment and all that kind of stuff. That I totally get. They don't want to be inundated with other stuff, but how much has it been affected? My guess is minimal, but again I don't have any data to support that. I don't have any data to support the other way either so that's just my personal opinion. Probably a little bit but not a ton.

I think these other reasons are possibly going to be affecting it a lot more. Number two, it's an election year. Oh my gosh can we all just wait for this to be over. I mean gosh people are going nuts about this stuff. I don't get it but apparently this is a big deal to a lot of people. Are people tuning in more to the election stuff than they are to basketball? Possibly. I mean your hardcore NBA fan is always going to choose the NBA over anything else so it's definitely possible. Game seven of the 2016 NBA finals. This was also an election year. This registered actually the highest rated, most watched, NBA game with an average rating of 15.8 and 31.02 million viewers. That's like crazy. It was the first basketball game to draw more than 30 million average viewers in 18 years, and only the seventh non-NFL sports telecast including the Olympics to have done so since 1998.

Now something to keep in mind though, this 2016 game I'm talking about was on June 19th, which is way farther away from the election than when this game six was played which was on October 11th, which is roughly three weeks away from elections. So I can see how being so much closer to the election people are focusing more on that than they would be in June. So that's something to keep in mind. As I mentioned in the opening though the ratings for the TV news networks were, for the first five NBA games of the finals, up 78%. However, not that many people are tuning into TV at all. Let me run through some stats for you real quick. About 76.2 million people were watching TV on the first five nights of the NBA finals this year. This was a 9% decline from the previous year and it’s about a 7.6 million drop, which is almost identical to what the drop in basketball is. Think about this though. 76 million people were watching TV. What the hell is wrong with people? Why are we watching so much TV?

I mean don't we have stuff to do like outside of sitting on our couch watching TV? I mean we’ve got 330 million people that live in this country, which is just an insane amount of people that watch TV. I mean I got rid of my TV a long time ago, but that to me seemed like a lot. I thought it would be a lot less people that actually watch TV, but anyway that's a whole nother topic.

Number three, can't really go without mentioning this, because obviously this is a big factor that is the COVID-19 issue. According to Forbes, in the first quarter of 2020, the number of households dropping their cable or satellite TV subscription was at an all-time high. 1.8 million people canceled their TV. Obviously this is definitely related to people losing their jobs and cutting out $100 - $200 bills or whatever they're paying for TV. Obviously you don't need that, you can get by on your Netflix and YouTube. YouTube's got at least a bunch of educational, informative, stuff on there, but definitely due to that.

Also COVIDs obviously affected bars. With bars either closed or at half capacity people just aren't going out as much anymore. That's definitely affected the TV ratings and it's hard to really say exactly on that one because every state is kind of somewhat different as far as how they've been handling it, but that could definitely be a huge factor.

Number four, and this is one I haven't really heard talk about too much, and this is just kind of my experience dealing with the Royals kind of winning the world series and then of course the Chiefs winning last year. It's just a lack of fans at the game and what that does is it actually reduces the buzz around the team playing in your home city or whatnot. Fans not only just go to the games, but they go to the bars around the games. They congregate beforehand. There's a huge buzz going around. People are wearing their t-shirts that they got. We're not doing giveaways and whatnot so people aren't really kind of excited about it. They're not really talking about it at the water cooler and all that kind of stuff. There's a lack of social media, which I think was a big part. When people are taking pictures, they're taking videos at the game, and they're spreading that around Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and that helps create a buzz. That definitely creates a snowball effect of energy around a city. I've seen it with the Royals, I've seen it with the Chiefs. It is definitely a factor at play.

Number five is momentum was just absolutely lost for this entire season. It's just a weird thing. We just haven't kind of gone through it yet when our season was just kind of canceled. I mean we had the 94 strikes season, but a lot of us don't really remember that. I was 12 at the time. So momentum was just killed. The season was going along just fine, the NBA was doing really well, and cards were obviously doing really well. They've sort of tanked since the season's been over but energy and buzz was just lost when the season kind of went away. Peoples’ focus kind of shifted a little bit too almost kind of a survival mode for a lot of people. Getting that next job and feeding their families and all that kind of stuff.

Number six and this is people just found other things to do. I mean I've really enjoyed doing more YouTube videos with you guys. I've always enjoyed working out but I've been working out more. I've been doing other things to help grow my business and just things that I've actually started to really like doing. When sports kind of came back on I was like, “Well do I want to watch the game or would I rather make another YouTube video?”, and I'd rather make another YouTube video. So it's just I found other things to do. Now yes, people that maybe have lost their jobs due to COVID are obviously probably trying to look for a job, maybe they're working odd hours at different jobs, so that could affect the TV ratings, but people are just finding other things that may be of interest. Maybe people started reading again, I don't know. Maybe people started a new business while the whole COVID thing was going on. People may have found other things to like. I hate to say it, but sports is not the end-all be-all for some. Yes for some people it is, but for most people they're just casual fans and if you just take it away for a while they're like, “I'll just find something else to do.”

So I think that definitely was a big thing at play there, and last reason here, number seven. These are just shitty teams. There's no way around that. It's hard to say that LeBron was on a shitty team but these teams were bad. I mean compared to the other teams that we've had in the NBA finals. I mean do you really think that any of these teams, this Lakers team, or this Heat team, are going to beat the recent Golden State Warriors teams? Are they going to beat Kevin Garnett's 2008 Boston Celtics? Are they going to beat the 94-95 Houston Rockets? Are they going to beat Lakers and Kobe? Are they going to beat Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs? Probably not. I mean they may have a chance. The Lakers have beaten last year's Raptors team which was a pretty darn good team, and there just wasn't large amount of superstars in this NBA finals that we're really accustomed to. We've got LeBron, but I mean outside of that, Anthony Davis, is he considered a top 20 player? Tyler Herro was great but is he considered a top 20? They just aren't guys that I think of. I think of guys like Kevin Durant, Steph curry, Russell Westbrook. People will tune in for these guys, especially guys like Curry. People really liked watching him play in the Golden State Warriors and the reason why I think with Curry, is one he's a super down to earth guy. Very fan friendly, plus he's kind of a smaller guy so a lot of the kids really kind of identify with him. They love how he shoots those long threes and stuff like that so having Curry in the NBA finals would have been a whole different ball game I personally think.

What if we had Luka Doncic in there or something like that? Now granted if he was in there the Lakers wouldn't have been in there but, superstars like that were missing. I think the teams just weren't all that great. I just think they just weren't. So you can take that with a grain of salt there, but that's just my take on why the NBA playoff TV ratings sucks. Was it one thing over another? Probably not. It was just like everything in life, it was just kind of a combination of a lot of things. Hopefully 2021 kind of gets back to normalcy I guess once kind COVID goes through and people get back to work, people start attending games again. That creates a big buzz around the league again, I have no doubt the NBA will be back. It's a great game and I think 2021 is going to be really interesting and here's why.

I've been talking about him for a long time, and yes LeBron is the face of this league right now, but Luka Doncic is coming up. He's got a really great team. Is he going to make an NBA finals playoff run next year? I think if you see him in the playoffs people are going to be tuning in to that stuff and you're going to see the ratings shoot right back up.

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