The NBA gets low ratings on its return

The NBA resumed its season Friday night with two televised games. How were the ratings? Ethan Strauss of the The Athletic reports:

After a four-and-a-half month absence, tons of lead-up media coverage regarding the bubble, with little competition on the airwaves and a schedule specially constructed to deliver us the draw of Zion Williamson, Pelicans-Jazz garnered 2.1 million viewers. For context, that’s roughly 400,000 fewer viewers than the average audience of a TNT game in the 2011-12 lockout season. Notably, the NBA’s official Friday viewership news release did not mention the season’s opening game at all.

The more feted Lakers-Clippers matchup did better, but its 3.352 million viewers fell short of expectations, even adjusted for the fact that the game also aired on local RSNs. Basically, the Lakers-Clippers bubble opener roughly equaled the Lakers-Clippers season opener audience, only the latter was going against a World Series game. Baseball, despite all its controversies, managed an audience of 4 million for its Yankees-Nationals opener and 2.8 million for the Dodgers-Giants nightcap last week. For another comparison point, both season-opening NBA games in 2017 topped 4 million viewers.

(Emphasis added)

Why the poor ratings? Strauss tosses out a grab bag of possible explanations as to why more viewers aren’t tuning in:

Chalk it up to load management, post-Warriors hangover, China, cord-cutting, kneeling, whatever your pet theory is, but the bottom line is that the NBA has been losing on the domestic front.

I know why I didn’t tune in, and won’t do at all during the remainder of this season. It isn’t so much China and the kneeling. It’s more the expectation that the NBA isn’t going to settle for a nod to BLM before at at the start of the games, but instead will subject us to propaganda throughout the proceedings.

For a non-political explanation, I’d suggest that the games aren’t all that interesting, though apparently the two last night turned out to be. The NBA is immensely popular, but I wonder whether its popularity isn’t due to the reality TV/soap opera quality of the league, rather than the games themselves.

There is endless fascination over whom Lebron James will lure to play with him in Los Angeles and how the resulting constellation of stars will get along; where Kawhi Leonard will take his talents and how they will mesh there; the latest installments of Draymond Green’s feuds with Kevin Durant and Charles Barkley; and the Twitter rants of Steph Curry’s wife. But is their fascination with 48 minutes of picks and pops, dunks, and three point shots? Maybe not.

Strauss finds it significant that “The Last Dance” — essentially a soap opera about Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls — “drew a shade under 6 million viewers, but the actual live NBA opener reaped a little over 2 million viewers.” I do too.

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