Stephen A. Smith Has No Idea MLB Is More Popular Than NBA

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Stephen A. Smith wants you to think MLB is dying a slow death while the NBA is surging.

On Wednesday’s First Take, Smith and Chris Russo debated whether MLB was on the verge of irrelevance amid its ongoing lockout.

“Baseball is in major, major trouble,” Smith tells Russo. “Revenue is down, ratings are down, national ratings are down.”

Smith cites recent World Series ratings as proof that Americans have lost interest in baseball. Let’s look at that:

This past season, the Braves-Astros World Series averaged 11.8 million viewers. Smith thinks that’s alarming. If so, and maybe it is, what does he say about the 2021 NBA Finals, which averaged only 9.9 million viewers?

If you are looking for an answer — stop. First Take has not covered NBA ratings since 2017, around the time viewership began to fall.

Smith calls the MLB’s declining ratings a trend. That’s also inaccurate. World Series viewership increased from 2020 to 2021. And 2020 was a record-low because of the pandemic (as it was for NBA Finals). And yet the World Series outdrew the Finals in 2020 as well, 9.8 million to 7.5 million.

As for revenue, to use Smith’s other argument, MLB tops the NBA there too. According to Forbes, MLB generates $10 billion, ahead of the NBA’s $8 billion.

So why is Smith declaring MLB on life support while cheerleading for the NBA every day on his show? Why won’t ESPN discuss NBA’s issues, which include stars skipping games, dire ratings declines, uncompetitive playoff series, and a meaningless regular season?

Fox News’ Will Cain discussed this dynamic with Clay Travis last summer.


“Let’s talk about why the media covers the NBA like it does. This is behind the curtains, behind the wall of sports media: the NBA is over-indexed because big media companies own their rights.

“The amount of NBA coverage you get is not reflective of the demand out there. This shows in the ratings. People don’t care about the NBA like pop culture and the media want you to believe. On the opposite end of that spectrum is baseball, which generates zero discussion.”

Clay agreed:

“Here’s why I think that is: baseball is hugely popular among the local markets but doesn’t have the national appeal.

“I’ll give you an example, just tossing this one out, the Atlanta Braves are way more popular than the Atlanta Hawks, in the city of Atlanta, but the NBA is far more popular in the Atlanta area than Major League Baseball is on a national level.

“It’s because, as you mentioned, Will, everybody has a strong opinion of LeBron James, not that many people have that strong opinion of Mike Trout.”

The NBA may have more national cachet than MLB, but it’s not the healthier league, as Smith wants you to believe. Those local markets, as Clay discusses, are cash cows.

In 2019, Ryan Glasspiegel compiled a chart comparing the MLB vs. NBA RSN ratings in the country’s seven biggest TV markets. Take a look:

MLB is not without flaws. The league will miss games to start the season and that’s an indictment on leadership. However, it’s telling that ESPN and Stephen A. Smith will openly promote segments derailing MLB, as they did for years with the NFL, but ignore much bigger problems in the NBA.

ESPN in general and Stephen A. in particular are untrustworthy and in the pockets of the NBA.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics..

Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.


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  1. Pretty much avoid ESPN at all costs due to Steven A. Smith. The website is straight garbage. The shows are unwatchable. Only on it to watch a game here and there. They are still the behemoth due to lack of competition, but it isn’t what it once was. Whoever runs that network is definitely losing revenue due to its addiction to Smith and the NBA.

      • Ball Don’t Read…… 2020 was a record-low because of the pandemic (as it was for NBA Finals). And yet the World Series outdrew the Finals in 2020 as well, 9.8 million to 7.5 million.
        2021 Braves-Astros World Series averaged 11.8 million viewers. The 2021 NBA Finals, averaged only 9.9 million viewers?

  2. As for revenue, to use Smith’s other argument, MLB tops the NBA there too. According to Forbes, MLB generates $10 billion, ahead of the NBA’s $8 billion.

    MLB has twice as many games but only males 2 billion more? You just made the argument for the NBA. Lmbao at conservatives on a daily basis

    • Did not read anywhere that MLB athletes are more impactful socially. Why must you turn everything into a race issue. The numbers don’t lie. S.A.Smith states his opinions. That’s fine. The facts don’t support his opinions. That’s what the article is about. Based on TV ratings MLB is more popular across the country. Maybe not everywhere, but these and your additional fact illustrate a counter argument to Mr. Smith. This is not about race, liberal, or conservative beliefs. It is about money.
      Personally I believe both of these sports are there to fill the gap between February and August.

      • He also fails to realize the NBA’s fortunes tanked, and continue to tank, thanks to those “impactful” players. While calling everyone who disagrees “clueless.” All from the porch of LeBron’s Uyghur plantation.

        Those “socially conscious” and “racial equity” 19’s aren’t going to make themselves, slaves! Better make sure they make their daily quota, ‘BallDontLie!’

      • Don’t feed him bro. Just let him flail around in the corner by himself. Not worth your time. He is is severely mentally handicapped. Most likely wore a helmet on his blue bus ride to school.

      • Dude, don`t waste your time trying to debate this fool. He`s not here for that. All Ball licker wants to do is get under your skin. He`s a troll. You`re better off just reminding him that he`s stuck on the plantation, sucking the democratic dick and that the blacks are never going to get a seat at the liberal elite table.

    • Do you really think that comes from ticket sales? LOL. Their TV contracts are worth $2 billion more than a league that, according to you, is vastly more popular than the MLB. Despite the NBA being kept afloat with more corporate sponsors, and as you pointed out, more recognizable stars.

      But you were in the middle of telling us how much more popular the NBA is. You know, the same league where its most recognizable star, on its most popular franchise, can’t sell out a game for fans to show up and boo both, all while the owner walks out.

  3. Allowing that the current Manfredization of MLB may have immeasurable negative impact on MLB’s future with its fan base …. ANY comparison of MLB vs NBA respective “popularity” with its fan bases that carefully tiptoes around the respective reverse racial components of each sports league is a useless exercise.

  4. This comparison of which is more popular, or has the better ratings, is really missing the truth….they both suck ass ratings wise. When you have a sport that still markets itself as “America’s past time”, and yet, when they play the World Series and can’t draw an average of even 10-11 million viewers, with all games being played during prime time, it really goes to show that the game has lost the national relevance, as it once did.

    Ditto the NBA. Think about it. There is still so much attention being paid to the GOAT debate, even though one player is nearing 40 and the other retired before half the current players were even born. The biggest stars are RETIRED, and they continue to receive the lion’s share of national media attention, particularly on FB. Everyday, something about Jordan, Shaq, Magic, Bird. What was the biggest programming about the NBA in the 2020-21 season? Why, it was a miniseries on the 1990’s Chicago Bulls teams, and that had even the current players, many as I said, weren’t even born yet, watching to see what they had only heard about. And it is STILL the subject of so much discussion about the NBA.

    The NFL is the King of North American sports, no doubt about it. The other two were left in the dust a generation ago. They are both irrelevant, and as was mentioned by another reader, they fill the gap during the NFL off season.

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