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Dubs in-depth: TV ratings for the 2020 NBA Finals are abysmal

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The league went to great lengths to continue the season the bubble, but the viewing numbers are discouraging.

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

When the NBA announced it was resuming the 2019-20 season, it was welcome news that provided us with some semblance of normalcy during a crazy time across the globe. The league shut down on March 11 due to the global Covid-19 outbreak and went more than four months without a game.

Commissioner Adam Silver signed off on the plan to spend more than $150 million to construct a bubble in Orlando, Florida, where players and team, league and media personnel will reside through the playoffs.

At first, the thinking was that the television ratings would be through the roof, mainly because most of the country is at a standstill due to the pandemic. But. that hasn’t been the case.

The numbers for the first three games of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat are considerably down from last season. Game 1 finished with a 2.1 rating among adults aged 18-49 and 7.4 million total viewers. Those numbers are down about half from what they were for last year’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. That is surprising considering LeBron James and the uber-popular Lakers are playing this year, while the 2019 series featured a Canadian team.

Game 2 saw another dip in the numbers with just 4.5 million total viewers, a decrease of 68% from 2019. Game 3 came in with a 1.5 rating and 4.0 million total viewers, making it the lowest-rated NBA Finals contest since 2007.

Here are the number of average viewers for the first three games of the last three NBA Finals:

2018: 17.9 million

2019: 13.6 million

2020: 5.3 million

There are numerous factors at play. The first is that many viewers stream the games (legally or illegally), something the ratings don’t account for. Some fans have said the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the players being encouraged to use their voice on specific political issues has turned them off the league.

Another factor is that all four of the major North American sports leagues were active at the same time. The NHL just finished up its seasons, while Major League Baseball’s playoffs are in full swing.

Baseball’s local viewership is up by 4%, but down for national broadcasts. The Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars averaged just over 2 million viewers, the lowest since 2007.

The NFL — which is always King when it comes to TV ratings — has seen a slight dip through Week 3, down 5% from last season.

Considering everything going on in the world, I find it weird nitpicking at why watching NBA games isn’t the same for me, but I haven’t found the viewing experience enjoyable. The broadcast lacks the energy level without the fans, while the court/arena setting is lackluster. Again, I am nitpicking.

Of course, many people across the country are dealing with more important things than sports at this unprecedented time. The economic uncertainty, pandemic and upcoming election are all on peoples’ minds right now, which takes precedent over sports.

Have you been watching the NBA Finals and other sports? Why do you think viewing numbers are down even when more people are staying at home than ever?