NBA television viewership has been down to start the 2019-20 season, but experts say a perfect storm of conditions has had an effect on fans and what they have been watching.
NBA viewership on ESPN, TNT and NBA TV has been down 14 percent through Dec. 6 compared to the same period in 2018, with fewer viewers tuning into games on ESPN and TNT than last year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
There are a few reasons why NBA viewership has been in decline from last year, Horizon Media analyst Wes Moore told The Hollywood Reporter. Injuries have been the main factor with stars like Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant all missing several months with various injuries.
“Turner, in particular, is suffering just from their schedule featuring a lack of premier talent in their games due to injuries,” Morse said.
Adding insult to an injury-plagued year for NBA teams, some of the premier matchups on television have been going up against FOX’s "Thursday Night Football" broadcasts.
Instead of watching matchups like the Dallas Mavericks vs. New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets vs. Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets vs. Denver Nuggets on TNT, fans have mostly tuned into the NFL games which have featured stars like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo.
NBA legend Charles Barkley theorized in November that it was load management that has taken a toll on NBA TV ratings. The Los Angeles Clippers have been notorious for sitting Kawhi Leonard for several games during the regular season hoping to keep him fresh for the NBA playoffs come April, May and June.
“I’m never going to agree on load management. It always worked when the greatest players who ever played the game played as much as possible, and they had bad shoes and didn’t have the best doctors in the world like they do today,” he told FOX Sports Radio. “These guys don’t have any loyalty to a team or a city and it’s why ratings are down.”
The NBA season usually picks up around Christmas Day as the college football season and NFL seasons come to a close. The NBA has had games in primetime slots on Saturdays beginning in January for the last couple of seasons as well.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban theorized in November that fans cutting the cord are the same ones not watching games on cable.
“Ratings are down because all of our national broadcasts are exclusively available on cable, which is losing subs daily,” he tweeted. “Football benefits from being on broadcast tv which is in every digital and traditional package along with gambling available in some of the biggest markets.”
Nonetheless, Thursday night's game between the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks brought in 2.8 million viewers as fans will turn to the NBA on Christmas Day.
The Christmas Day games will be on ABC and ESPN – as they have been. The matchups include: Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans vs. Denver Nuggets. The first game and last games are on ESPN. Tip-off begins at noon Eastern Time.