The Los Angeles Lakers have had one of their worst-ever seasons this campaign, entering Tuesday night's nationally televised game against the New York Knicks with a 23-46 record, or second-worst in the Western Conference. While Lakers fans can hold out hope for lottery luck and a budding star obtained via June's draft, it's clear that the 2013-14 season has not been particularly exciting. With Kobe Bryant determined out for the rest of the season after playing just six games and few exciting players on the roster, there hasn't been much reason to tune in to the team's games.
That understandable lack of interest shows up quite jarringly in the team's local TV ratings on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the regional sports network that began last season. From Rick Kissell for Variety.com:
Looking at Nielsen’s “Live plus same-day” ratings for the 2013-14 season, the 57 telecasts of Lakers games on Time Warner Cable SportsNet have averaged 199,000 viewers — down a whopping 49% from last year at this time (390,000). The team has been without stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash for just about all of the season, and has one of the worst records in basketball at 22-44 this season. [...]
The Lakers’ ratings decline has swelled in recent weeks as even the most optimistic fan had to know that the team wasn’t headed for the postseason. Four of their last seven losses have come by 20 points or more and the three most recent Lakers games have averaged a meager 72,000 viewers; a year ago, games on the comparable dates averaged 586,000, or more than eight times as much.
Time Warner Cable Sports Network is in its second year of a 25-year, $5-billion deal as the local television carrier of the Lakers.
It's worth noting that the Lakers are still the most popular team in Los Angeles. The Clippers, a far better outfit this season with a 50-21 record, have averaged 96,000 viewers through their first 59 telecasts on cable sports channel Prime Ticket. It's also not as if Lakers fans have jumped over to the Clippers — that mark is down roughly 21 percent from last season's ratings. Perhaps the Lakers' struggles have cooled Southern California's passion for the NBA.
This dip doesn't necessarily mean that the Lakers are any less loved. It's very common to see a team dip in measurable popularity only to bounce back as soon as it improves in the standings, or even provides fans with some reason to hope for the future. The Lakers have been both terrible on the court and put out a team that doesn't even have much connection to their likely future. Why exactly should teams watch a bad team that could employ just a few players who figure into long-term plans? Angelenos presumably knew things were looking bad when they ended the Lakers' longstanding Staples Center sellout streak in November, and they're smart enough to know there's little reason to tune in right now.
It would be easy to call Lakers fans fickle for not watching the team much this season, but all but even the most committed fanatics require some sort of return on investment (of time or money) to keep at it. Plus, it's not as if the Lakers have fallen from some lofty position — last season's impressive ratings came in a wholly disappointing season in which the franchise didn't clinch a playoff spot until the final days of the schedule. If the Lakers give their fans any reason to return in 2014-15, the viewers will come back. The fan base is hibernating, not dead.
- - - - - - -