The Fall of NBA Ratings

Blake Brenek, J1 Guest Writer

The NBA Finals is typically among the most viewed events of the year. If you compare it to other sports, they come in second for annual championship ratings, behind the Super Bowl. Although this year, the NBA Finals game 1 set a record for the least viewed Finals game in history. The unfortunate record lasted all but two days. Game 2 pulled in about 60% of what game 1 had, and each game subsequently followed by breaking the record.
Many are wondering why the ratings are down for which is usually a massively watched and enjoyed event. Some think it is because the NBA became more political after the return from COVID-19. Others think it is because people got so disconnected from the coronavirus break that they mentally scratched this season and thought the champion would be “fake” and have an asterisk.
This rating depletion would make more sense if it had been decreasing gradually over the course of the last few years. However, the 2019 Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors pulled in 18.34 million viewers for the elimination game. Just one year later for the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat elimination game, they only had 5.6 million people watching. That is approximately 70% lower than the previous year. Game 6 was not even the most watched event of the night. The Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings played on Monday Night Football the same night and doubled the ratings. A random NFL game that has little meaning dominated the last game of the year for the NBA in ratings
What many people think of the “prime of professional basketball” was the 1990’s. Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals pulled in a record-breaking 35.9 million viewers. This record still has not been broken today. A good reason for this would be this was likely the last game you would see the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, to play in. It would also be the end of the historic run for the Chicago Bulls and their six championships in eight years. These ratings are roughly 700% higher than this year’s game 6.
However, the NBA isn’t the only league suffering. The NHL suffered the lowest ratings for the Stanley Cup Final in 13 years. Their game 6 only pulled in 2.7 million viewers. Hockey has always been less viewed than basketball, but this was very low. Also, last year’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers was the lowest in 11 years with 98.2 million people. Last night the MLB had game 1 of the World Series. Baseball experienced the smallest decrease out of the four major sports but still only pulled in 7 million viewers.
Many people blame the lower ratings on COVID-19 and how it forced leagues to postpone and alter their schedules. Another scapegoat people use is how leagues are becoming more political. Odds are, it is a mixture of both. People go to watch sports to escape the chaos and annoyance of politics and just to enjoy the sport. Now, leagues are intruding the beauty of their sports with politics and millions of Americans are very upset about it. COVID-19 forcing leagues to alter their regular season lengths and postseason layouts. This leads to millions of fans and even some players to think that this year’s champion will always be looked at as “weak” or “unnatural.” Whatever the reason, sports are unfortunately on the decline and ratings will most likely continue to decrease.