With LeBron James back in the NBA Finals and two big-market teams squaring off for the 2020 title, Adam Silver must’ve been ecstatic heading into the highly anticipated series.
But the star-studded matchup hasn’t translated to much success in the television rating department. In fact, the 2020 NBA Finals has been the least-watched Finals series on record so far, and it’s only getting worse with every game. What could be causing the drastic dip in viewers this season?
The 2020 Finals has been the least-watched Finals series in NBA history
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are must-watch television when they step on a basketball court, but most Americans don’t seem to think so this year. Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals was the least-watched Finals game in recorded history, and it’s only gotten worse from there.
Just 7.4 million people tuned in for Game 1 last Wednesday. Before that, the least-watched NBA Finals game fielded 8.02 million viewers in 2003.
Things went from bad to worse in the next two games, too. Game 2 saw just 6.6 million viewers, and Game 3 fielded a measly 5.9 million. The television rating for Game 3 was a 3.1, which got crushed by the Eagles and 49ers on Sunday Night Football. The SNF game scored an 8.4 rating in the same time slot.
Obviously, scheduling an NBA Finals game on an NFL Sunday isn’t ideal for the league, but that’s not the only factor contributing to the record-low ratings.
NBA Finals ratings are down 70% from LeBron James’ last appearance
LeBron James last appeared in the NBA Finals in 2018 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Game 3 of that series against the Golden State Warriors fielded a 10.4 rating and 17.85 million viewers.
Two years later, James returned to the Finals with a big-market franchise, but the television ratings have plummeted. Game 3 of this series against the Miami Heat fielded a 3.1 rating and 5.9 million viewers — both record-lows.
That’s a 70% and 67% dip in rating and viewers, respectively.
What could be causing the NBA Finals’ record-low ratings?
The obvious answer to the NBA Finals rating collapse is the sheer number of sports the NBA has to compete with this year after COVID-19 forced every professional sports league to modify its schedule.
The NBA has never had to compete with the NFL or college football directly, but they’ve run into a juggernaut this year. Game 3 was the lowest-rated and least-viewed NBA Finals game ever recorded, partly because it aired at the same time as Sunday Night Football.
Another reason for the rating dip could be the growing politicization of the NBA. Almost every player and coach is kneeling for the national anthem. The NBA bubble courts have ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted across the top. Players are allowed to wear social justice-themed uniforms with messages on the back. The Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic even boycotted a playoff game to protest racial injustice in America.
Some viewers surely appreciate their activism, but many have bailed on the sport completely because of it. President Donald Trump has even attributed the rating collapse to NBA players protesting the national anthem.
COVID-19 surely put the NBA in a tough spot, but no one expected the Finals to suffer this much as a result.
All data courtesy of Sports Media Watch