The NBA, like many professional sports leagues, has embraced the “woke culture.” And it is costing them in the bank account and in the TV ratings.
Initially, when the season started, the league saw an uptick in numbers. But that has sharply declined since.
Since the 2011-12 season on ABC, the league’s most important channel, the ratings have dropped by 45%. Cable partner TNT is down with 40% and ESPN is down 20%.
As of today, each primetime or cable game is averaging around a 0.7, which equates to about 1.15 million views. This year’s NBA All-Star game pulled in just 5.943 million views, a record low.
The biggest hit came during the 2020 Finals with Lebron James’ Los Angeles Lakers taking on the Miami Heat.
An average of 2.95 million fans watched each contest, a decline of 51% and an all-time low. The 2020 playoff ratings were down 27% from 2019, and down 40% from 2018.
According to a recent poll, people are simply choosing to ignore the NBA. In a survey done by Yahoo! and YouGov, 34.5% of those surveyed said they have watched less because of the social justice messaging.
Of Republicans, 53% echoed this sentiment, along with 19% of Democrats. Just 8.6% say they are watching more.
The China problem
One of the biggest reasons for this decline was the league’s reaction to China before the start of the 2019-20 season. While many teams were in the country for pre-season games, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted his support for those protesting recent legislation in Hong Kong.
It was met with a swift response from China and from the league.
Several NBA stars, including Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Lebron James, came out in support of China, and James even dismissed Morey during his team’s trip: “We all talk about this freedom of speech,” James said.
“Yes, we all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others, and you’re only thinking about yourself.”
What shocked most fans and the United States as a whole was the non-reaction from many outspoken players and coaches. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he needed to do research on the topic, and San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich supported the league’s decision to keep its ties with the nation.
Morey eventually apologized and deleted his tweet. However it was not enough for China, which imposed sanctions on the league.
Beijing They pulled sponsorships from preseason games, cut events, and refused to show Rockets games within the country. Commissioner Adam Silver repaired the relationship despite backlash from U.S. Government officials who wanted the league to cut ties with China in response.
The money in China is a big problem with the league. If the NBA were to cut ties it would have to drop its salary cap 10% to 15% due to lost revenue.
Also, many players such as Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler are sponsored by Chinese shoe companies Anta and Li-Ning, both of which last week said they will continue to use cotton produced by Uyghur slave labor.
Right now the NBA is discussing another TV deal with the Disney Corporation to broadcast its games on ABC and ESPN. The NBA is currently asking for $70 billion.
That is unlikely, especially after the company just signed deals with the NHL and NFL, with the latter costing Disney $100 billion. If the NBA wants NFL type money, they will need to repair their relationship with casual fans in the United States first, and that means less focus on popular social justice themes off-court.