Game 1 of NBA Finals sees lowest viewership in recorded ratings history

Jack Baer
·2 min read

A trend of low ratings throughout the NBA postseason has now reached the NBA Finals. And hit it hard.

Game 1 of the Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat brought in only 7.41 million viewers to ABC, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That is reportedly the lowest viewership seen for the Finals since at least 1994, when total viewers began to be regularly recorded.

The number is down 45 percent from last year’s Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, which had 13.51 million viewers. This is the fourth straight year Game 1 viewership has gone down compared to the previous season.

The previous low for the Finals was reportedly 8.06 million in Game 3 of the 2007 NBA Finals. That was the third game of a sweep by the San Antonio Spurs of the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James’ first Finals appearance.

NBA playoffs ratings down, like other sports

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 30: The Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat in action during the third quarter in Game One of the 2020 NBA Finals  at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 30, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The NBA's ratings have been trending down for a while. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Anyone surprised by the NBA Finals seeing record low ratings probably hasn’t been paying attention to how the league has trended since returning to play in Disney World. Or even before.

The playoffs opened with a thud that was partially attributed to weekday afternoon games, and things didn’t get better as the postseason progressed. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the two conference finals series this year were down 35 percent year over year.

However, the down ratings aren’t endemic to the NBA. Pretty much every other major league has seen down ratings. The NHL’s Stanley Cup Final performed even worse compared to last year. MLB has been down through out its season. Even the NFL has had some struggles, though not as pronounced.

Why are the NBA’s ratings down?

News of the NBA’s ratings struggles will undoubtedly be received with glee from President Donald Trump, who has previously attributed the league’s lagging viewership to its protests against racial injustice.

Political polarization could very well play a part in the dip, but there are likely several reasons behind the NBA’s decline. The league’s young viewership has been increasingly cutting the cord for years, often consuming games through streaming and highlights on social media. This season has been something of a surreal experience, and the four-month interruption in play could have turned off some casual viewers. Sports fans have been facing a highly truncated sports landscape in the last few months, with several spring and summer events moved to fall. This year’s Finals is seen as a fairly lopsided matchup, and the Lakers didn’t need long to show it.

The NBA certainly isn’t happy its ratings are down, especially in a series featuring the Lakers, but there are still reasons for optimism for the future of the league, as well as its competitors.

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