Insider: Historically low NBA ratings understandable

Lakers forward LeBron James reacts during a game against the Nuggets. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Television ratings for the conference finals gave the NBA little momentum heading into its main event between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, but this year’s viewership issues come with a few “obvious caveats,” according to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch.

For one, this is the first time the NBA postseason has been held in August and September, opposite of the NFL — which generally overtakes everything else on TV. Also, ratings are also generally down across the board, regardless of programming, in August.

“The declines are steep and the lows historic, but all is not lost as the NBA enters the final chapter of its protracted season,” Lewis wrote.

As Lewis relayed, the Eastern and Western conferences suffered a 35 percent decline in viewership since last season, averaging only about 4.18 million viewers for ESPN and TNT.

“The 11 games played this year rank among the 14 least-watched conference final games since 2007, joining Raptors-Bucks Game 2 last year (4.39M) and Games 1 and 2 of Spurs-Grizzlies in 2013 (4.85 and 4.62M),” Lewis noted.

That said, the conference finals did hold up well against most of the other competition, sans the NFL. Lewis used the Lakers win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of the West finals to illustrate his point.

“Saturday’s clinching Nuggets-Lakers Game 5 was the weekend’s highest rated and most-watched non-NFL sporting event with a 2.4 and 4.79 million viewers on TNT, easily winning a crowded head-to-head against college football (Florida State-Miami: 1.6, 2.95M; Alabama-Missouri: 1.15, 2.09M) and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final (1.5, 2.71M),” he wrote.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver admitted prior to Game 1 of the Finals that the league has struggled to generate eyeballs, saying that the league is “learning more about our television audience” and that “fewer people are watching in the summer.”

According to several reports, viewership for the first-round of this year’s playoffs — held in August — was down 27 percent from last season and 40 percent from 2018-19.

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About the Author

Sam Amico
Sam Amico has covered the NBA on a full-time basis for OutKick, Sports Illustrated and FOX Sports, and has been a regular contributor to CBS Sports, the Boston Herald and NBA.com.

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