The NBA’s TV Ratings Are Going Down. Why?

Ethan Strauss of The Athletic recently shared his thoughts on the matter with Slate

Why Are NBA Ratings Doing Down?
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against Jusuf Nurkic of the Portland Trail Blazers.
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Last night, LeBron James had 30 points and 10 assists before heading to the bench late in the third quarter with Lakers comfortably leading the Portland Trail Blazers in a game they went on to win 135-115 to take a 3-1 advantage in their playoff series.

It was a great game from James in what has generally been a pretty entertaining postseason for the NBA thus far … and not that many people are watching.

Last week in a piece on The Athletic, Ethan Strauss reported that the ratings for network NBA broadcasts have declined by 45 percent since 2011–12, with games on TNT down about 40 percent and games on ESPN down about 20 percent. While there were some expectations ratings would increase for the NBA’s bubble games with sports fans starved for content, that apparently has not been the case.

While there are likely multiple factors which are contributing to the continued drop — cord-cutting, fans watching on illegal streams, the rise of Netflix and other sources of entertainment — one of the reasons the NBA’s ratings are down could be the league’s ties to China and the stance that its players, coaches and broadcasters have taken on social justice issues.

When asked to explain by Slate’s Josh Levin why he thinks the NBA’s willingness to talk about Black Lives Matter while ignoring China has led to a decline in viewership, here’s what Strauss had to say.

“I think it’s completely obvious to people who aren’t in the bubble. You have your most precipitous drop this last year after [the NBA’s response to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s comments about] China,” he said. “I mean an absolute free fall, where you’re losing double digits on the national ratings, double digits on the local ratings. And yeah, maybe you’re never going to be able to prove it to a T that it had something to with China, but that is when the NBA is hitting the news for people who are not necessarily completely engaged. And I think that when you talk to a lot of people who aren’t within media, people maybe where their politics don’t line up 100 percent with what’s being evinced, yeah, a lot of people are turned off by it. I think that it doesn’t take a lot of imagination, really. I feel like I’m being put in the position in a way of just explaining the obvious, that gravity exists. And I guess I would say to you, why wouldn’t it have an impact?”

Whether people are watching or not, the NBA playoffs continue tonight with a pair of Western Conference games.

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