I Didn’t Care About the NBA Playoffs

Back in August of 2019, I published my “Seismic Revisions” article on my thoughts of the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season. In that article I stated that I didn’t believe the Miami Heat would be able to overcome the Milwaukee Bucks in a playoff series, and those printed words make me look like an utter fool when that same Heat team overcame them in just five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Nuggets also surprised me quite a bit, as they overcame two 3-1 deficits in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and managed to make two improbable comebacks to secure themselves a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Their Semifinals comeback was against the Clippers, a team who many, including myself, had picked as title favorites. However, everything came crashing down when the Finals rolled around, as the Lakers won the championship amidst crumbling television ratings.

Back in June, I made a post that discussed the potential playoff seeding and impact of the NBA lockout. Despite concerns of player safety in a bubble during a global pandemic, as well as questions of viewership intrigue during said pandemic, the NBA pressed forward with their bubble, and gave the players even more reign to speak out on issues of social justice. The NBA outright postponed three day’s worth of games from August 26th-28th after the Bucks, in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake, refused to come out to play the Magic in Game 5 of their First Round matchup. The Magic refused to accept a forfeiture, and with the Celtics planning to not play against the Raptors that same night, as well as the Clippers and Lakers having an informal vote to just end the whole season, the NBA instead elected to postpone the games and resume play on the 29th. If my speculation and analysis from “The NBA’s Peculiar Position” seems like a stark contrast to the apathetic detailing of NBA players’ political activism, then you know how I felt about the entire situation; if you somehow missed the headline.

My complete apathy for the actual viewing of the NBA was best exemplified in my antithetical excitement of seeing how far I could get up the NBA “pick ’em” leaderboard on the Yahoo! Sports app1. Despite the fact that the Nuggets overcame two 3-1 deficits, a title favorite suffering an historic collapse, the firing and resigning of several coaches and general managers, LeBron’s fourth championship and Finals MVP, and the Lakers tying the Celtics with 17 championships, the interest for the playoffs just wasn’t there. I had been working for a couple months on another Game Film article, this time being on the 2007 NBA Finals, and I had been planning on releasing it to coincide with the conclusion of the 2020 NBA Finals. It’s funny to know that I would’ve been actively writing an article on the least-watched NBA Finals since viewership was recorded while this year’s Finals was receiving even fewer viewers.

My deleted post on the 2007 NBA Finals. It was set to be my third Game Film analysis until I decided against releasing it.

Being someone who follows the sport and gives his own analysis, one could assume I was one of few million who tuned in every game, but the fact is, I stopped watching before the playoffs even started. Quite frankly, I just didn’t care. The whole bubble ended up reeking of corporate endorsed politics, and by the time the Finals rolled around, the audience simply didn’t tune in. This year’s Finals was a 50.8% decrease in average viewership from the previous season, and a 57.6% decrease from 2018, which is especially humorous considering I published an article in 20182 where I began my opening paragraph by stating that it appeared as if interest in the Finals that particular year was not as great as it could have been due to it being a repeat of the Warriors being too great for the Cavaliers to handle. If only I could have seen into the future to see just how low the bar could drop. At least 2018 centered around basketball-related discussions; 2020 was more about on-court social justice messaging, off-court political activism, and players complaining about playing in a bubble to earn their multi-million dollar salaries.

There’s been something of a shift in attitudes towards celebrity culture during this pandemic, and I’m glad to see everyday people realize they’d rather do other things with their time than listen to celebrities pander to them under the guise of entertainment. One would think of all the distractions in the world, sports would be immune from political activism, as the entertainment comes from competition, teamwork, and an individual player’s skill and athletic ability. Sports are a microcosm of the human condition, and yet, they’ve been invaded by the political correctness and activism that is today’s corporate society. Others are a little more optimistic3, and also point to the decrease in ratings in the NFL, NHL, and MLB. The MLB has it’s own ratings issues it needs to deal with, as the sport has consistently seen declining World Series viewership since the mid-’90s. It briefly picked up to early-2000s viewership numbers in 2016 and 2017, but that was likely due to the Cubs winning their first championship in 108 years, which likely kept intrigue in casual viewers when the Astros won their first championship the following year.

This is an article about the NBA however, so I’ll stick to that. Going off of the writer’s given statistic that 45% of the NBA’s audience are white males, and that it only decreased to 44% during the playoffs, it’s as if he somehow tried to pass off the racial makeup of the audience as proof political activism didn’t play a factor in the drastic ratings decline. While his point that people just aren’t interested in consuming every big four North American sport at roughly the same time right after going months without having any is a good one, it actually opens up a counterpoint to that writer’s racial makeup statement. After going months without sports, it’s true that many people would be too burned out to consume all these sports in one day when some of them are usually in their off-season, but wouldn’t that also make it more likely that the most dedicated sports fanbases would stick around to at least watch the conclusion of the season?

Is the national media suggesting that there’s only an average of 7.45 million diehard NBA fans? How did we go from an average 9.29 million viewers in 2003, during the peak of the “Hero Ball era” of the NBA, to the first three games of the NBA Finals becoming the top three least-watched Finals games of all time? Game 3 seriously had only 5.94 million people watching, it doesn’t matter how you try to break it down or say it was competing against Sunday Night Football, that is downright inexcusable. The racial makeup point that he made only further proves the arguments against the protests and riots across the United States, as even though these athletes and the NBA itself pandered to far-left ideology, that 45% of the NBA’s audience that are white males still mostly stuck around to see the season all the way through to the end. The racial makeup is going to mostly remain the same, it’s the overall number that is concerning. Reducing the argument that political activism harmed the ratings to breaking down an audience’s racial makeup and pointing the finger at other sports leagues that also encouraged political activism is exactly the type of behavior that drove away the majority of the audience in the first place.

The rest of the article has little of substance to say, and no further argument than television numbers overall are dipping, which shouldn’t be a surprise anymore in today’s streaming society. The other big reason that sports are suffering is due to the lack of masses of crowds allowed to gather in large groups. The lack of a live audience really hurts a live sports viewing, and it’s for those reasons the NBA really needs to worry with this large of a drop-off in viewership. It’s actually a shame that I have little interest in the NBA going forward, as the Lakers have a dominant duo on the verge of possibly repeating next season. That alone should provide plenty of analysis, but all I’m stuck laughing over is the NBA denying Adam Silver’s alleged comments that he was shocked over the drastic drop in viewership. I’ll tune back in eventually, but the days where sports consumed more of my time than I realized was necessary are over. I suspect quite a few of you readers feel the same way.

Editor’s Notes

  1. He was 57th out of 425,589 this year
  2. Havarti – 6/7/2018 – 2018 NBA Finals, Game 3
  3. The New York Times – 10/22/2020 – TV Ratings for Many Sports Are Down. Don’t Read Too Much Into It Yet.

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