Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Finals TV Ratings prove LeBron isn’t must-see TV

LeBron James on brink of leading third team to a title, but few seem to care.
LeBron James on brink of leading third team to a title, but few seem to care.
Illustration: Eric Barrow (Getty Images)

This was supposed to be appointment television.

After all, LeBron James is on the brink of history during these NBA Finals. One more win over the Miami Heat, and James will become the first player to lead three different franchises to an NBA title.


Who wouldn’t want to watch history in the making in their living room?

Sports fans usually flock to such an event to see it with their own eyes.

Not this time.

Clearly, somebody forgot to invite NBA America to this coronation.

It just hasn’t registered on TV.

The results, or lack of, have been shocking.

This isn’t just an explainable ratings dip. The NBA Finals, with James as the headliner, have hit rock bottom.

This year, James, somehow, has starred in three of the lowest-rated Finals in history in the first four games. But, somehow, it is dubious for the man some honestly believe is the G.O.A.T.

Fans have not embraced James and his quest to be better than Michael Jordan on the all-time scale.

According to reports, each of the first three games of the 2020 NBA Finals successively had the smallest audience of any Finals game on record.

Yep, even worse than that New Jersey Nets-San Antonio Spurs 2003 matchup that was the previous low.


That’s saying a lot.

Speaking of Jordan, it’s no surprise that the highest-rated and most-watched NBA Finals series was Jordan’s Bulls against the Jazz in 1998, which averaged an 18.7 rating/33 share and 29.04 million viewers on NBC.


Game 5 is tomorrow night on ABC. And of course, this year’s woeful TV ratings are not all LeBron’s fault.

TV viewing for sports has changed, taken a drop across the board. It’s become too much, an all you can eat situation and some fans have simply decided to go on a diet.


Plus, the NBA is playing out of season. As popular as the sport is, most normally don’t have other options to watch during a regularly scheduled Finals.

But in October, it’s a different ballgame. The NFL is back and there are MLB playoffs, too.


In fact, Game 1 of the Finals aired against the exciting Yankees’ 10-9 victory over the Indians on ESPN. Game 3 on Sunday was crushed by a Eagles-49ers regular-season NBC NFL game.

“The ratings being down is almost … basketball got forgot about,” said former NBA guard and current analyst Eddie House on my Fox Sports Radio show The Odd Couple. “The Finals are in the summer. That’s when the Finals are,” he said.


“It’s kind of weird seeing it right now. This is when you’re supposed to be reporting to training camp and the first game is going to get started pretty soon. There are so many things pulling you in different ways.”

Even with all that competition, the NBA Finals Game 1 viewership dropped more than half in one year. ABC got 7 million viewers this year. Last year’s Raptors-Warriors Game 1 drew 15.1 million.


That is a shocking number, especially when you’re talking about James, the league’s best player, and the Lakers, the league’s most prestigious franchise. It should have been TV ratings gold, no matter who the competition was.

Sure, there are some who want to blame Black Lives Matter and the movement against police brutality and for social justice. They argue that fans are turned off by the NBA players and that’s why the ratings have tumbled so.


But those same people haven’t used that rationale with the NFL’s Black players. Many have taken part in protests across the NFL and people haven’t turned off their TVs.

Plus, the WNBA — whose players have been even more vocal about social justice — saw its TV ratings improve by 68 percent this season compared to last year.


“It’s not that people are not really interested,” House said. “It’s just a lot of things going on in the world right now where sports, as great as it is, and brings us together in so many ways. Still, there’s a lot of different stuff on people’s plates.”

Yes, normally the NBA Finals are in June, in a spot all to itself as king of TV.

This year, however, the king was crowned by the competition on TV — and many NBA subjects decided to pass.