The 2020 NBA Finals have seen an enormous drop in ratings compared with last year, and the league’s vocal support of social justice issues has been suggested as one of the factors behind it.
According to TV Line, Sunday’s NBA Final decider between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat – which the former won 106-93 to take the series 4-2 – drew in 5.5 million viewers, but last year’s final game between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors had an audience of 18.9 million, signifying a 71 percent decrease in viewership.
Game 5 drew in 5.7 million viewers, down almost 70 percent from the 18.2 million who tuned in to watch the same game last year.
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There have been suggestions throughout the playoffs that the enormous gulf in viewership compared to last year has partly been due to the NBA’s increasingly vocal response to social justice issues this season.
The Black Lives Matter slogan has been displayed on the courts in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of white police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with murder.
Players were also allowed to display BLM and “Equality” messages on their jerseys.
In August, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted a game against Orlando Magic after a black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by Wisconsin police.
Texas senator Ted Cruz tweeted that news of the NBA’s falling ratings was “not surprising.” He added: “Personally speaking, this is the first time in years that I haven’t watched a single game in the NBA Finals. #GoWokeGoBroke”
Not surprising. Personally speaking, this is the first time in years that I haven’t watched a single game in the NBA Finals. #GoWokeGoBroke https://t.co/ygIp60EKHi
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) October 6, 2020
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has suggested the league won’t be as explicit with its social justice messaging next season.
He said that while the NBA is “completely committed to standing for social justice and racial equality,” he predicts next year “there’ll be somewhat a return to normalcy, that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor.”
However, while the messaging has evidently been off-putting for a section of the NBA fanbase this season, the severe decline in ratings appears to have a number of factors behind it.
Veteran NBA coach George Karl certainly had strong views, issuing an X-rated rant over the slump attacking US President Donald Trump.
There is talk of bad NBA ratings on TV.
There are lots of reasons for that.
The Leagues messages on social injustices isn’t one of them.
But, fuck Trump!!
And now I feel better…
— George Karl (@CoachKarl22) October 6, 2020
Per KWWL.com, an NBA spokeswoman said that health and safety was the primary concern in organizing this year’s Finals, rather than optimizing them for TV ratings.
The games have been played behind closed doors in the ‘NBA bubble’ at Walt Disney World in Florida as a result of the pandemic, diminishing the product on display without fans in the stadiums.
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What’s more, the delay in the season caused by Covid-19 means the Finals have been played in direct competition with the NFL, which would not have been an issue had the season finished in June as normal.
The NBA has not been the only sport to suffer such a decline, either.
Per Yahoo Finance, the audience for the NHL playoffs dropped by 25 percent – including a 61 percent drop for the Stanley Cup finals – overall, while MLB’s playoffs have suffered a 39 percent decline. The NFL’s early viewing figures show a 14 percent decrease in viewership.
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