The 2020 NBA Finals attracted almost 7.5 million viewers on average, a 51% decline from the 2019 Finals. NBA viewership has been seeing a steady decline for years now. This fact became more evident than ever during ‘The Bubble’ in 2020, COVID-19 hit the NBA particularly hard.
There are numerous reasons for this decline, some attribute it to the absence of fans, while some believe that changing consumer habits are the main reason for this decline as more and more people now prefer to follow sports on social media over watching a whole game. Nonetheless, there is still time to repair the damage and bring the NBA back to its glory days.
Reasons for NBA’s viewership decline
The National Basketball Association saw its worst ratings ever during the pandemic-struck 2020 season. Although the decision to resume the season inside the bubble was popular among fans, NBA ratings plummeted. The absence of fans has been portrayed by many as a major reason for this decline.
A Harris Poll conducted during the bubble showed that 28% of those surveyed said they had stopped watching live games because they were ‘boring without fans’.
Injuries are a big reason the NBA has seen the decline it is experiencing right now. The 2021 season showed how much of a toll a long season can take on the players. Lebron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetekumpo, and many other All-stars and superstars suffered injuries during the season. Many fans only watch the games for their favorite player, and when that favorite player is out injured, you can’t really expect them to tune in for the game.
These injuries have led to many players sitting out games to ‘manage their load’ (load management) and flipping the latest basketball odds, which has also led to a decline in the ratings.
Changing Consumer Habits
A lot of people believe the decline in NBA viewership is because of the advent of social media. Social media following for the NBA is at an all-time high; many people nowadays prefer to follow the NBA online and watch highlights rather than spend 2 hours watching a single game.
Politicization Of The NBA
The Harris poll mentioned above also showed that 38% of those surveyed said the reason for them tuning out was the politicization of the league, ‘the league has become too political’ they said. The NBA and its players have made their political opinion well-known, which has led to many fans turning their back on the league.
Lack Of Physicality and Defence
The NBA today is a far cry from Jordan’s NBA. Lack of physicality and the absence of intense defense are the reasons many old-school basketball fans have quit watching the NBA. Players today are more likely to go down and try to draw a foul than ever. The baseless foul calls and stoppages have led to many people losing interest in the league.
However, this isn’t the end, there are still ways through which the situation can be rectified, and the damage controlled.
How can the situation be rectified?
Shortening The Regular Season
A lot of experts and pundits alike have been pushing the NBA to shorten its regular season because it attracts the least viewers and takes a heavy toll on the players’ bodies. Shortening the regular season and increasing the duration of the playoff can help boost the ratings.
Broadcasting the NBA to more people around the world is necessary if the NBA is to survive as a league and an entity. There are tens of millions of NBA fans and followers in areas where the NBA isn’t even broadcasted, televising the league in such areas will only be beneficial. The NBA needs to go truly international, promoting basketball in areas where it isn’t that famous will help boost the ratings.
Reducing Baseless Foul Calls
Reduction of baseless foul calls, which have become too common in the NBA today, and the promotion of physicality can also help boost viewership. Encouraging players to play defense is necessary.
The NBA’s decline in viewership is due to several factors; however, it can be curtailed if steps are taken in the right direction.