One league’s curse is another league’s blessing
Throughout the 2017 NFL season, the league’s ratings have suffered mightily. Sure, some of this is due to anthem protests and Donald Trump’s continued tweets vilifying the league, but the fact of the matter is simply that the NFL’s ratings are suffering. Now while this has been a constant point of discussion, one thing that many observers have wondered is simple: where are all those viewers going?
The answer isn’t surprising, but the increase is. The NBA has been the main benefactor of the NFL’s loss of viewers. In fact, they’ve benefitted so much that this season so far has been the 2nd most watched in league history. The numbers for all of the league’s national broadcasters are up, and drastically so. NBA on ESPN, which has broadcast 30 games so far this season, has reported an 18% increase in viewers (1.8 million) from this time last season. TNT has only shown 16 games so far, but is reporting a 25% increase (2.1 million) in viewers. Even NBA TV, the league’s dedicated channel, has reported a 25% increase in viewership (365,000), pretty eye-opening considering that NBA TV shows games daily as opposed to TNT or ESPN, who only show premier games.
There could be a number of reasons why this is, but one in particular is that the NBA is lacking a major factor of the NFL’s ratings downfall: political demonstrations and protests. So far this season, there haven’t been any showings of agendas not related to basketball. In the words of the New York Post, “Central to the NBA’s rise is its success in focusing the league’s many dramas on the game itself — an area where the NFL has failed miserably, experts say.” The article continues, saying that the NFL’s multitude of other storylines—brain damage, injuries, fighting owners, and even subpar play—have hurt the league while the NBA just focuses on the action on the court.
Even this summer’s NBA Draft garnered near-record numbers. Viewership on ESPN for the event rose 15%, making it the second-most watched draft ever. In addition, the NBA’s Summer League helped make NBA basketball something that could be consumed virtually year-round. Also the multiple shocking narratives of the league, like Kyrie Irving leaving LeBron and Cleveland to go to the Boston Celtics or Chris Paul moving to the Houston Rockets helped the league generate interest during the offseason.
So, while the NFL still is king among viewership for the major sports leagues, it’s lead is starting to slip. And unless they start figuring out how to reverse this trend, it will only get worse.