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NBA Ratings Have Plummeted Since 2019 More Than You Think

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Sports writers and broadcasters — extensions of the NBA’s PR department — often become emotional and throw the book at critics who accurately point out that the NBA is a diminishing brand. The book is full of directions on how to dishonestly convince the audience that the NBA’s plummet isn’t as bad as the few honest media members say. The puppets are running out of excuses though. 

The media yelled “Bubble!” last season as the NBA’s rating tanked to lows you had to blink twice to believe. Fine, let’s take last year out and compare this year to 2019. Are you sure that’s what you want? To forget last year’s numbers?

OutKick has learned that since 2019, NBA broadcasts on ABC, ESPN, TNT are down 25%. Gone. Have not returned.

Each year that LeBron James waves a middle finger at half the country, viewers respond by turning the channel at a rate higher than the previous year. 

Compared to 2019, TNT’s 2021 slate dropped 19%, from 1.5 million to 1.2 million. ESPN fell even further, down 26%, from 1.6 million down to under 1.2 million.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver once blamed cable packages for collapsing ratings. Has he seen what his sport is doing on ABC, the NBA’s sole broadcast partner? ABC tanked 25% between 2019 and 2021, going from 3.6 million to 2.7 million. That’s a new all-time low. Since 2011-12, ABC’s NBA broadcasts are down more than 45%. Nearly half of the audience has left.

Perhaps, the media that omitted the 2020 NBA ratings from the system will reinsert them so that they can stick with the 13% decline between 2020 and 2021? 

While cord-cutting has hurt all TV programs, the NBA is in a league all its own. TV numbers are already down, thus when a brand then tells half the country they are racist criminals, maybe even terrorists, its viewers leave, sinking that number even further.

In a column last week, I dove into a bevy of reasons the NBA is down to historical lows. You can read in full here:

Painting “Black Lives Matter” on the court, endangering heroic police officers, lying about race relations, promulgating a myth that police are “hunting” black people, bowing to the Chinese Communist Party, and profiting off slave labor all play well online and with shoe companies. But they do not resonate with a majority of the American population.

A recent study proves as much, finding that nearly half of America changed its sports viewing habits once political and social messaging began to spread across the leagues, particularly the NBA.

Other sports have not suffered nearly as much. Take the horses for example. The 2021 Preakness actually increased viewership from 2019 by 29%.

The NBA had a bad 2019. The NBA had an all-time horrible 2020. What do you call its 2021?

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

19 Comments

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  1. Once was a huge NBA fan, would watch it nightly. Haven’t watched a second of it since 2019 and have no intention of ever going back. Wouldn’t even consider watching again as long as lebron is still playing and silver is commissioner.

  2. When the celtics boycotted their January 6 game I left for good. They were mad that more unarmed white people weren’t shot on Capitol Hill. One unarmed white woman killed at point blank range by a black cop was simply not enough.

    They identified a double standard, they thought, about the treatment of protestors, and decided they couldn’t play basketball in the wake of this double standard.

    This world view is so biased and so devoid of nuance that it put their ignorance and bigotry on full display. Which is fine – they’re sheltered young millionaires – but their voice is too loud to be so divisive. So I’m out.

  3. Perhaps someone should tell the powers that be inside the NBA echo chamber which features multi-millionaires constantly lecturing the rest of the country on what they should be concerned about (China excluded of course) has not proven to be a ratings enhancer.

  4. Its the worst haven’t watched and don’t plan. on watching all the big mouth coaches and players who have an opinion on everything except the brutal chicoms who are imprisoning Muslims and harvesting body parts and shutting down Hong Kongs freedoms not a fucking word pathetic human beings

  5. The politics are annoying. That plays a role in the decline.

    That said, the game itself presents an issue. I tried watching the BOS WAS game last night. I couldn’t make it to halftime before I quit paying attention. I’ve come to realize that my big problem is the game is so ADHD. Jacking up 35-foot 3s with 20 seconds left on the 24-clock.

    I’m not gonna get into everything. I’ll simply say SLOW DOWN. It literally feels more like an All Star game than an actual basketball contest. I guess some people prefer that style but it sure as hell ain’t me.

    As much as people hate LeBron, I have no idea what this league will do after he retires.

  6. I am a lifelong basketball fan. Used to watch a ton of NBA games. The last two years I have stopped watching completely after they went full on woke. Until they stop, I will not return. If this goes on much longer .. if they ever stop , I still may not come back. I am fed up with all of it.

  7. I remember when the NBA`s glory years were in the 80`s and 90`s. Fewer teams, the players had 3 or 4 years of college ball and no social media. The product was just simply a lot better. Now you have players that aren`t physically (and emotionally) a lot of times ready for this. Throw in the social justice hijacking ,along with LeFraud giving everyone who`s white the middle finger, and i`m not surprised this is happening.

  8. Team owners either indulged the players in their social justice lecturing loaded with inaccuracies and hate or were just as ignorant of the true police encounter stats. Same with Silver, if he’s so smart why didn’t he educate his players in the truth rather than let them hate on fans, the anthem and law enforcement with bad info?

    Beyond all that, when your flagship star is a snide loudmouth racist you’re in deep doo doo as a business dependent on likability.

    • Did I maybe miss it, that lone NBA player who came out to encourage citizens to comply with the police when they have an encounter? When they were boycotting games over creeps who resisted arrest, did reporters even ask about that? Just curious.

  9. I used to live for the NBA, going back to Dr. J, before Larry and Magic gave it another dose. Used to go to San Diego Clippers games several times a year (saw Walton play in person there, along with Norm Nixon).

    Haven’t watched a game in a couple years now, not even playoffs. Probably won’t.

    When a business owner says, “Hey – I don’t like you and don’t want your business,” I take them at their word.

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