NBA is one of the most-watched leagues in the world. Whether we are talking about basketball or any other sport discipline, the basketball league enjoys a lot of viewership not only in the United States but the rest of the world as well.
Is NBA viewership bad? This is a prevalent question. Compared to the other seasons the NBA has experienced a major decline in terms of the number of spectators around the world. There have been many reasons and the coronavirus pandemic is a dominant one.
However, the NBA is always on its feet and manages to retain the viewership, as loyal spectators are always ready to support their teams. We will further explore the reasons behind declining viewership as well as the surrounding history.
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Main reasons affecting viewership
When we talk about viewership and the possible reasons behind its decline, there are a number of factors that we can point out. All of these factors are strongly interconnected with each other and we are going to review them each by each.
The coronavirus pandemic
When the coronavirus outbreak happened back in 2020, the whole world was thrown into massive trouble. Countries were affected, sports were shut down and most importantly the economic crisis was underway. Of course, the NBA was no exception and the season was halted. The 2019/2020 regular season was not completed. The 2020 NBA Bubble in Orlando was a solution to the problem. However, as there were almost no fans watching different games, the viewership was affected massively.
Favourite teams not getting to the Finals
Prior to the start of the 2020/2021 regular season, there were 2 outstanding teams that were favourites to meet in the Finals: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets. The latter assembled a trio of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant, while the former had a magnificent duo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James. While numerous experts predicted that the final would feature both of these teams, not everything went according to plan. This was a pivotal factor and instead of the Lakers and the Nets spectators got a final between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks.
A large number of games
In a regular season of the NBA, 82 games are held. The 2020/2021 season was an exception because of the coronavirus pandemic and instead of 82 games, 72 games were introduced. When there are such a high number of games, the quality of matches declines as well. Spectators are not fond of watching low-quality games. If we compare the NBA to other disciplines when a lower amount of games are held, the viewership is significantly higher. The addition of a play-in tournament was a perfect decision, as more people were interested in watching tense games between the teams fighting for the spot in the playoffs.
The NBA has gone a long way to become what it is today. When David Stern was commissioner of the league, he made numerous changes and made it one of the best competitions in the world. During the 90s, there was an abundance of superstars – from Michael Jordan to Hakeem Olajuwon. The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers is also something that we can mention. People were eager to watch the confrontation between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Right now, there are no such rivalries.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Los Angeles Lakers featured Kobe Bryant and Shaq O’Neal who dominated the league for 3 consecutive seasons. They had a famous confrontation against the San Antonio Spurs that featured Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
After that, we had the Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh that went on to win 2 championship titles. In 2012 it was the first year, James won his maiden title with the Heat. While the season was curtailed amid the lockout, the viewership was its best and brought almost $4 billion in revenue.
In the new season of 2020/2021, a drop in the NBA rating on US national television was recorded. The data is usually presented as of the beginning of December and is compared with the same indicator for the previous season.
The viewership on ESPN dropped 20% and on TNT 23%.
Potential reasons include game reasons (load balancing, the end of the Warriors Dynasty), a shift in fan attention from basketball to rumours and offseason transitions, and the availability of ESPN and TNT only on cable TV.
The NBA viewership is a very sensitive topic that requires thorough attention and analysis from the officials. While numerous factors impacted the league’s viewership, there is always a way to get back on the path. First of all the league needs to pay attention to the quality which is directly proportional to the reduced number of games. The majority of youngsters are not keen to watch games on cable TV and prefer observing highlights on YouTube or other platforms. Because of that, the NBA can look forward to reducing regular-season games as they are pretty tiresome for players.
At the same time, the league could focus more on introducing a different format – perhaps in the playoffs. The NBA play-in tournament was a major breakthrough, as it attracted more viewers. When there is one game determining the winner and candidate for the playoffs spot, the tensions are higher, so the league could think about maintaining this structure.