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NBA Playoffs: TV ratings down a stunning amount from last season

The 2020-21 NBA season is slated to start Dec. 22.
Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Fans around the world were itching to get live team sports back after pretty much every professional league suspended action back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After being sidelined for five-plus months, the 2019-20 NBA season resumed at Walt Disney World in Orlando in late July. Playing inside a bubble with interest seemingly high, the season resumed amid national anthem protests following the murder of George Floyd back in May.

That’s been pretty much the biggest backdrop as the 2020 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat continue this week. With it has come sluggish television ratings for the NBA. We don’t really have any good news to report on this front.

NBA Playoffs TV ratings down a stunning amount from last season

According to Sports Media Watch, the two conference finals series around the Association saw television ratings decrease by 35% from a season ago. The conference finals averaged just 4.18 million viewers across ESPN and TNT.

  • 2018-19 NBA Conference Finals: Last year’s conference finals pitted the Golden State Warriors taking on the Portland Trail Blazers out west with the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks battling it out in the Eastern Conference. Ratings for those series were high.
  • 2019-20 NBA conference finals: Shockingly, this year’s conference finals saw ratings decrease by 35% from a season ago despite the presence of the Los Angeles Lakers. Existing in the second-largest media market in North America, Los Angeles took out the Denver Nuggets. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics (ninth-largest market) lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It is somewhat surprising that the Lakers could not draw larger ratings with LeBron James leading the charge as his team attempts to win its first title in a decade.

However, this is just the continuation of major ratings issues around the Association.

NBA ratings compared to the NFL: It’s not great for Adam Silver and Co.

It was just last month that the very same Lakers took on the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The star power included King James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Said game drew just 2.5 million viewers. Meanwhile, the opening “Thursday Night Football” game between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs drew 20.5 million viewers.

It’s hard to compare any other league to the NFL in ratings. Despite a minor downtick in viewership this season, the NFL still rules over its competition. Even then, the ratings numbers listed above are stunning.

What might be the reasons for the decrease in ratings around the NBA? There’s a number of factors. However, one stands out above the rest.

NBA national anthem protests and TV ratings

This is no small thing. While President Trump called for a boycott of NFL games due to widespread anthem protests in that sport, the impact has been largely mitigated.

As for the NBA, its season resumed with teams taking part in national anthem protests at Walt Disney World in Orlando. It’s not necessarily a surprise given that the NBA, headed by the leadership of Commissioner Adam Silver, has been more outspoken than other leagues as it relates to police brutality, racial injustice and other societal issues plaguing the United States.

Related: NBA defends LeBron James in spat with President Trump

This was taken to a whole new level during the early stages of the 2020 NBA Playoffs when teams boycotted games after a man by the name of Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer. This led to a further divide between rival factions around the United States.

NBA ratings impacted by Orlando bubble?

This could be something else to look at. Fans are not attending games at Walt Disney World. Is it possible that a lack of interest has coincided with this? It’s much different than the Lakers, as an example, captivating the Southern California fan base while winning an NBA Finals game at the Staples Center.

It’s not yet known what has impact the NBA TV ratings during the 2020 playoffs. What we do know is that the 11 conference finals games played this season rank among the 14 least-watched since 2007. That’s just bad news for Adam Silver and Co. There’s no other way to go about it.

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