Television ratings for the NBA Finals have been at a historic low. Game 3’s 5.9 million viewers were the fewest for an NBA Finals game ever (at least since 1984 when they started tracking Finals numbers). The second-lowest was Game 2 of these 2020 NBA Finals.
This caught Adam Silver off guard, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post.
According to sources, commissioner Adam Silver still is surprised at the low audience with LeBron James chasing his fourth title at age 35. Silver is aiming for next year’s NBA Finals to not compete in the crowded sports month of October.
Silver has made general comments that could signal a belief the emphasis on Black Lives Matter has resulted in a ratings fall.
A league source strongly denied this report, saying the ratings have fallen in the range the league projected once the playoffs started.
Right-wing talking heads and politicians have tried to score points saying the NBA’s focus on “Black Lives Matter/social justice” has hurt ratings — Mark Cuban and Senator Ted Cruz got in a Twitter spat over it.
That argument doesn’t hold water, however. It’s not just the NBA’s ratings that are down; sports ratings across the board are taking a hit: Just here at NBC, the ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals, the Kentucky Derby, and golf’s U.S. Open were down by about the same percentages as the NBA. Other broadcast networks are seeing the same thing. Even the juggernaut NFL is having some rough ratings spots (Thursday nights, for example).
That’s not all political. Part of the drop may be sports playing out of season — and now a lot of sports competing for eyeballs in the same window this fall. The lack of fans in the stands can hurt the broadcast product and energy around sports. There’s also a heated presidential election that has the nations’ focus.
Most of all, the coronavirus pandemic has upended much of American life, it shouldn’t be a surprise that has happened to sports viewership as well.
The real question is when — and if — those ratings will bounce back.