Nearly two months into the NBA's 2019-20 regular season, television ratings have tanked across the three major TV networks — ESPN, TNT, and NBA TV — that broadcast games .
Viewership across ESPN, TNT and NBA TV is down 15% year-to-year overall, according to Nielsen figures. TNT's coverage is averaging 1.3 million viewers through 14 telecasts, down 21% versus last year's comparable coverage, while on ESPN the picture isn't much prettier. The Disney-owned network is down 19%, averaging 1.5 million viewers versus just under 1.9 million viewers at the same stage last year.
So what gives? Variety suggested the ratings downfall is related to injuries among its star players. Golden State's Stephen Curry is out; Brooklyn Nets' star Kevin Durant was out before the season started; and Zion Williamson, the most-anticipated rookie since perhaps LeBron James, missed the start of the season and continues to be sidelined by an injury.
TheAthletic, however, was more frank about the problem. The publication wrote that, "The issue is interest, or lack thereof."
While declining ratings and attendance woes are problems currently transcending the sports world, the NBA's early season interest problems are more significant than in other sports.
Perhaps the problem is, at least in part, related to the league's kowtowing to China.
In October, Houston Rockets general manger Daryl Morey tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters fighting for democracy. In response, the Rockets, NBA, and several league stars bowed to China, rebuking Morey and apologizing to the communist nation. The kowtow response was due in part to the NBA's growing footprint in China — and the huge financial mine that China represents.
The censorship became so bad that peaceful protesters at NBA games in the U.S. were tossed from arenas for showing support for Hong Kong.
With the overwhelming rejection of NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem a few years ago, Americans have made it clear they want sports without politics, especially politics seen as anti-democracy. The NBA's actions on China and Hong Kong, amounting to borderline censorship, prove they did not learn that.