nba ratings

As the NFL deals with a seemingly endless succession of bad TV ratings news, the NBA seems to be cruising merrily along.

On Tuesday, ESPN announced that its national NBA package is averaging 1.92 million viewers through 19 games this season, up 24 percent from this point last year. Last week’s Warriors-Thunder matchup, in which Russell Westbrook and OKC defeated Kevin Durant and Golden State, averaged 3.282 million viewers, making it the most watched regular-season game on ESPN since last Christmas.

Now, we should note that 19 games is not a very large sample and that much or all of the ratings bump could owe to the quality of the games the network has aired. Local ratings last season were actually down from 2015-16, and NBA Finals ratings dropped slightly as well. Still, in a climate of cord-cutting, with sports and non-sports properties alike losing viewers en masse, the NBA has to feel pretty good about any ratings data that suggests an increase — even if it covers only a month of action.

The natural comparison point here is the NFL, which has seen its ratings drop for the second straight year, sparking a cottage industry of guesses as to why that is. Though it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise cocktail of factors in the NBA and NFL’s divergent fates, the NBA certainly hasn’t faced the same wave of controversy the NFL has. While NFL storylines have involved bickering owners, rampant injuries, risk of brain damage, the alleged blackballing of a former star and, most importantly, low quality of play, NBA storylines have mostly focused on the court, where exciting teams and ascendant players are making for another enjoyable campaign.

In a time when sports ratings have become bizarrely politicized, many observers will likely try to spin the NBA’s sturdy viewership in support of their ideology about athlete activism. Some will say fans watch the league because players don’t protest during the national anthem, which won’t make much sense given how outspoken many stars have been about police brutality and racial discrimination. Others will say the NBA’s ratings are proof that fans will watch a league whose players speak freely on social issues, which might be true but doesn’t lend much insight into the NFL’s predicament.

The truth is the NBA and NFL are different leagues with different values, different audiences, different advertisers, different TV partners and therefore different factors that drive ratings. The NBA has a highly appealing product with tons of stars, several must-watch teams and numerous compelling storylines. The explanation for the league’s strong ratings really might be as simple as, the NBA is a whole of fun right now.


About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • JWJ

    Just curious, has there been any on-court political demonstrations against the US (or any political demonstrations at all) this year during an NBA game?

    Maybe, just maybe, the issue isn’t political activism by players OFF the court or OFF the playing field. That the reason for some folks being perturbed with the NFL is anti-American and black/white/red/purple supremacy salutes on the field.

    • Deon Hamner

      The best player in the league called Trump a Bum…. NBA has it in their CBA to stand up for flag. Don’t kid yourself. The players and Coaches are no fan of Trump and socially aware. Remember this is the league where players wore I can’t breathe shirts…

      • JWJ

        Has there been any on-court anti-American demonstrations? I am not aware of any, but there could have been?

        Also, do you think the nba commish would punish a player if they knelt during the anthem?
        Do you think the commish would punish any player for any type of on-court political demonstration (burning the flag; pro-life hoodie, etc.)?

        • Deon Hamner

          I think the Adam Silver would punish a player if they sat during anthem. Not because he agrees with someone like Jerry Jones or Houston Texans’ owner but rather because its in the CBA. Also in the 90s Chris Jackson a.k.a. Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, who played with nuggets and with shaq at LSU; Sat during the national anthem due to his beliefs in America.

    • souvien

      Perhaps you should watch the flag-hugging-est sport of all…NASCAR!

      They could certainly use more viewers…#hemorrhaging

      • Gypsy Enforcer

        This is about the nfl and NBA, so your shot at nascar is immaterial. How’s golf doing? Bowling? How about the WNBA? Dolan is SELLING the Liberty, because no one comes or watches. Your snarky point is pointless.

    • Joe Johnson

      This ratings hike is not possible. What happened to STREAMING eating most of the ratings? Shouldn’t ratings be down across all sports if the moronic and ignorant excuse of STREAMING was true?

      Racists and spoiled millionaires knelt for a Marxist agenda in the NFL. Now we know for a FACT, that’s why the NFL has collapsed. And that’s why NBA players don’t have the BALLS to cut their paychecks by a third, and do the same thing their Leftist racist brethren did in the NFL.

      This isn’t a Trump thing. That guy is as much as a moron as Obama was. This is an American, Jeffersonian thing.
      We are watching you media, Marxists, and Elitists. This isn’t Europe, this isn’t the Middle East. Don’t Tread. Learn from this.

  • Gypsy Enforcer

    I’ve definitely watched more NBA this year and what players say politically off the court is fine. If they took it to the court and started kneeling during the anthem to hate-on Cops, I wouldn’t watch another minute of it.
    Last year in the nfl I only watched the Giants, while this year I even stopped with them, too. olivier kapernick disgusts me and is a disgrace to the Giant uniform.

  • YuSukToo

    NBA is starting to cross the line as well. Curry and Lebron disrespecting the president and calling him childish names. Keep it up you rich spoiled confused black athletes.
    BLACK LIVES MATTER HAS RUINED NFL. They better not start doing that crap in the NBA!

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