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ESPN/NBA Are Not Telling Full Story About League Ratings

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Wednesday, ESPN put an AP story on its homepage, bragging that its favorite league, the NBA, is up 95% in viewership year over year. “NBA ratings for opening week up significantly from 2019,” the headline reads. This is quite the spin-job, leaving the most important piece of context out.

What ESPN, the NBA and the AP fail to mention is that opening week 2020 is not comparable to opening week 2019. In 2019, the season tipped off on October 22, 2019. Due to COVID-19 rescheduling, the 2020 season tipped on December 23, 2020, meaning it includes an event known as Christmas Day. Heard of it?

Christmas Day is the NBA’s primary regular-season showing. Combining a tradition and a day most Americans have off from work – Christmas Day games draw substantially higher numbers than a regular day. Pretty important context to leave out when comparing seasons, no?

Congrats to the NBA for having more viewers on Friday, December 25, 2020, than it did on Friday, October 25, 2019, a time when the country was not locked down or home for Christmas.

This misleading brag would be like the NFL opening next season on Thanksgiving and comparing that game’s numbers to this past year’s opener. Despite the lousy matchup, Dallas-Washington on Thanksgiving drew more than any other NFL regular-season game over the past year. Hmm, holidays must make a difference.

To properly judge the NBA year-over-year, compare it apples to apples. Take Christmas Day December 25, 2019, and Christmas Day December 25, 2020. Or for really good context, add in Christmas Day December 25, 2018.

Here’s how that looks:

OutKick contextualized this data earlier this week:

“The average viewership of the five games is down 16.5 percent from last year and 25.3 percent from two years ago. The marquee primetime game, Mavs-Lakers, was down 20.1 percent from last year and a whopping 32 percent from 2018, a game which featured LeBron and the Lakers versus the not-yet-depleted Warriors. Prior to 2018, the marquee Christmas Day NBA game was in the 5:00 pm ET window, rather than at night. This season’s marquee game had the lowest viewership since 2007, according to the historical ratings chart from Sports Media Watch.”

That doesn’t sound too good. So much for that 95% rise.

The report did note that 2020 is the highest opening week since 2011. You might think back and wonder, “What happened in 2011?” I’ll help: it’s the last time the league opened during Christmas week. 

Written by Bobby Burack

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

16 Comments

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    • Yep. Just as fans of hockey & NASCAR are overwhelmingly white, I’d say the majority of NBA fans are now black or city dwelling whites (mainly cities with NBA teams). While the former have always been considered “white” sports, the post Jordan years have seen the casual white fan to lose interest in the NBA. Initially it was the style of play. Big men in the paint were replaced with 3 point shooters. The last 3 seasons have seen that number fall off a cliff, starting when championship teams started blowing off their White House trips, then leading up to the 2020 implosion. And contrary to what the blue-checkmarks tell us, the declines have to do with the actions & political stances of the players, not the color of their skin. Once Drew Brees did a mea culpa on his anthem kneeling stance, his reputation with the average white fan went into the shitter.

      • Preach. Because the NBA is a black league it can’t really be reported as failing. Just can’t go there. The league blows. Said it elsewhere multiple times. The players don’t care, they come off as hating each other, the country and dare I say themselves. Colonel Klink (I mean A. Silver) had said they are miserable. What a difference a Dad sitting at the dinner table every night would do for the race of American Africans. Until that 75% babies born to unwed mothers drops significantly we will have this issue. 5 – 10 – 200 years from now. Thank you black sperm delivery personnel. Job well done.

  1. The AP is extremely biased in its news stories and very often interjects opinion into them. Most of its “reports” belong on the editorial or opinion page. It seldom references an author, as was the case in this public relations story, so that they can hide from direct criticism.

  2. Ouch brother! The truth hurts. I knew something was up when I saw the ratings spin as the lead on the ESPN ticker the other night. Why would you put that up? Maybe to try and change a narrative? Way to be on it, Bobby.

  3. Look for the NBA to set up gambling to make up for lost popularity and advertising revenue. The NBA is on the way to becoming a day at the track. Couldn’t happen to a better bunch of leftist elites who know much better than you how you need to spend your time and money.

  4. That Mason guy got exposed by an astute VIP member with his real identity and FB page not too long ago. Mason suddenly disappeared. Now ” Erin Miles ” shows up. Will be the last time referencing this clown and I hope everyone else doesn’t acknowledge this moron from here on out. Its distracting.

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