At a time of year when television ratings tend to increase, the NBA went in the opposite direction during the conference finals.
The biggest loser was the Western Conference Finals on TNT, as the Los Angeles Lakers-Denver Nuggets series was supposed to start an uptick, given that the series featured LA star LeBron James. But one game dropped a staggering 41 percent in viewership from a comparable matchup last season between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, as relayed by Carlos Garcia of Game7.
Meanwhile, an Eastern Conference Finals game between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics on ESPN dropped 15 percent when compared to last season (Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks), and a whopping 44 percent from two years ago (Cleveland Cavaliers-Boston Celtics).
Overall, the six conference finals games broadcast by TNT and ESPN combined to average a meager rating of 2.4, per Show Buzz Daily.
When compared to every sport but the NFL this fall, that’s actually not horrible. The conference finals even occasionally outdrew college football. But when compared to NBA seasons past, it’s been quite a nosedive.
For instance, last year’s conference finals series averaged a rating of 3.9, with no West finals game falling below 4.2.
And unlike this season, neither 2019 series had LeBron.
Along with all that, the most-watched conference finals game last season (Warriors-Blazers, Game 2) averaged 7.8 million viewers. The most-watched this year (Lakers-Nuggets, Game 3) averaged 4.8 million — or three million less than 2019.
“Some believe this all boils down to consumption habits. People are streaming more –both legally and illegally — and watching TV less,” Garcia wrote. “Others think this is a political issue. Both the NBA and NFL have been very vocal as it pertains to social justice issues over the past few months. Critics suggest that this is a turn off to potential viewers.”
Granted, these are strange times, especially for the NBA, with playoff games often going head-to-head against the beast that is the NFL for the first time in league history.
But the decline has been a season-long trend, as pre-hiatus ratings on ABC, ESPN and TNT had nosedived a combined 12 percent since last season.
Again, that was before the league was forced to suspend the season and everything was business as usual.
Things only got worse during the restart on the Disney campus, especially for the playoffs, with the first-round ratings plummeting 27 percent from 2019, and 40 percent from 2018.
This type of news may or may not impact the league in terms of sponsorships and when it’s time to renegotiate television contracts. But what it does show is that interest appears to be waning at a time when fans can’t even attend games.
Less interest results in less revenue, and no business can afford that, not even the big business of pro basketball.
ABC tips off its coverage of the Finals between the Lakers and Heat on Wednesday (9 p.m., EST). View the full schedule and how to watch here.