LOS ANGELES • Television ratings for the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals have fallen to record lows but the slump is part of a broader trend caused by a sporting calendar thrown into chaos by Covid-19, industry analysts say.
While there were high-quality performances in the first four games, the basketball showpiece has failed to capture its usual US television audience.
Game 1 was watched by 7.41 million people according to figures from Sports Media Watch, which analyses American sports, compared to 13.4 million viewers for last year’s Game 1 in late May.
Game 2 numbers fell to 6.61 million while Game 3 tumbled further to 5.94 million, the lowest total recorded for an NBA Finals game.
Game 4 – in which the Los Angeles Lakers won to take a 3-1 lead over the Miami Heat – improved to 7.54 million viewers but still declined 41 per cent from last year.
With the pandemic sending sport in North America into a shutdown in March, the NBA was able to return only in late July.
Game 1 clashed with Major League Baseball play-off games involving the Los Angeles Dodgers (1.1 million) as well as the New York Yankees (2.5 million), drawing viewers from the two biggest media markets in the United States.
Game 3 went head-to-head with the 15 million watching National Football League’s traditional “Sunday Night Football”, a staple of weekend sports television.
“Going up head-to-head with the NFL and MLB post-season is a first, and the competition has had a negative effect on audience delivery,” media consultant Brad Adgate told the Front Office Sports website.
Fierce competition from the news cycle – the Finals are being held just weeks away from the Nov 3 US presidential election – is another drain on ratings, experts argue.
The NBA is also far from alone in incurring steep declines.
Ice hockey’s Stanley Cup Final average viewing figures fell by around 61 per cent, while the US Open golf Major’s final round dived 56 per cent to an all-time low.
Both US horse racing classics, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, also registered sharp drops, plunging 43 per cent and 31 per cent respectively, as well as motor sports’ Indianapolis 500, which fell 32 per cent to an all-time low.