There was a time during the midst of 2020 in which Adam Silver and the NBA owned the world. The combination of an amazing All-Star Game in Chicago with a new dramatic ending, the sad and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, and the league’s decision to shut things down — becoming the first warning that this COVID-19 was super serious — all played a part in the NBA being the talk of the town as their restart in The Bubble became the only sports on TV. And then things opened back up, and the league has been in a tailspin ever since.
Life comes at you fast, especially after a global pandemic.
According to SportsMediaWatch, the 2023 NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, “averaged a combined 2.2 rating and 4.59 million viewers across TNT and TBS, making it easily the lowest-rated and least-watched edition of the game. The previous lows were a 3.1 (2021 and 2022) and around six million viewers (2021).”
This is what happens when you force a predominantly Black league to play a game that’s become useless and a terrible watch in a place like Utah, which has an annual fan presence around this event that’s extra-Black, while you trot Karl Malone around all weekend.
The report went on to say that ratings dipped 29 percent from last year’s game and that this was the biggest drop since 2000. It was so bad that the NFL Pro Bowl and MLB All-Star Game brought in bigger crowds — ouch!
Given that last year’s game was in Cleveland — which included horrible weather — this year was in Utah, and next season will be in Indianapolis, having three consecutive games in small markets with uncomfortable weather was a terrible business decision.
According to Sportico, NFL games accounted for 82 of the 100 most-watched U.S. broadcasts in 2022. That’s seven more than last year when the 2021 mark was 75 out of 100. College football had five of the top 100, political programming had four, the World Cup had three, and college basketball had two.
Do you want to know how many the NBA had?
The NBA’s most-watched broadcast of 2022 was Game 6 of the NBA Finals, which came in at 108th.
Now, here’s where things get even more interesting, as the league’s media rights will be up soon. “We don’t have to have the NBA,” said Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav back in November in response to how expensive things might get when the media rights expire after the 2024-25 season. Can you imagine a world in which TNT doesn’t carry regular season games on Tuesday or Thursday, depriving us of waking up to reruns of “Charmed” on our screens due to staying up late watching playoff games?
It could be a reality sooner than later.
NBC is interested in bringing the NBA back to its airwaves, and Apple and Amazon have interest, too — as well as the stalwarts like Turner, ESPN, and ABC. Having the league on a major network could help the league in the ratings department, as we’re in the midst of the streaming wars. It’s as if people overlook that a $10 HD antenna is still the cheapest and best way to watch live sports on NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX.
But, no matter who gets the media rights, their first order of business needs to be a sit down with Adam Silver to discuss how to increase ratings. Outside of the NBA Finals, All-Star Weekend is the league’s biggest show pony. And if the TV ratings were the Kentucky Derby, the NBA would be the horse that keeps finishing last.
Wait, would that then make Roger Goodell the football version of Bob Baffert? Ahh, never mind.