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How are NBA fans responding to a drop in viewership?

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The NBA has been on a little bit of a viewership downfall, with an estimated 12 percent drop in playoff viewers this season as opposed to last season. 

Many people have different opinions about the NBA Finals, but also just the state of the NBA currently. VOX ATL interviewed several basketball fans to get their opinions on this past season, why viewership has plummeted, and what the NBA can do to improve. 

“I wonder if it’s because of the new generation of superstars they might not be interested in,” says Ian, a basketball fan who lives in Atlanta. He wonders if this is because guys like Lebron James, and Kevin Durant aren’t reaching the finals as often anymore. He suggests “giving Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, Victor Wembenyama more exposure.” The idea is that these “new generation” stars could be a factor in allowing the NBA a path back to the “old days.” 

One way to highlight the newer superstars would be to use them more in the NBA’s marketing.

“Put more players in ads, because maybe the viewers will develop a liking for the player,” says Corey Patterson, a VOX journalist. One of the promotional videos for this year’s NBA Playoffs, “The NBA Playoffs: where superstars become legends,” encouraged viewers to watch the playoffs, featuring exciting plays, big moments, and some of the star players in the league. 

However, Patterson and other fans may want to see more ads that allow a little bit of their personalities to pour out like they do in commercials players do for big brand endorsement deals, which could lead to more purchases of the NBA’s streaming app, NBA League Pass. 

Streaming’s impact on viewership is another issue fans are talking about. “I also believe that the young fan doesn’t have cable and either streams it or watches in alternate methods. The ratings will go up when alternate sources are included,” says Brian, 31, a Celtics fan. 

Game start times are another issue. “8:30 [sic] start times on weeknights hurt the East Coast because with 3-5 minutes of ads every timeout the game doesn’t end until after 11:00 p.m.,” says Brian. “Also, the casual [fan] that used to watch back in the ‘90s and 2000s has a lot more options to watch now than they did back then. So, if a game is boring or there’s low interest in players they aren’t aware of, they can watch Netflix or Hulu,” he says. 

Shawn, 31, a Celtics fan, speaks on the lack of accessibility as well. “I don’t have cable so I don’t watch live sports. I think many people are in a similar position. Also, the season is too long. Casual viewers don’t care to watch an early/mid-season game that doesn’t really count,” he says.

Avery, a 30-year-old Miami Heat fan was “disappointed” with the NBA Finals this year. “I thought the series was boring and not memorable. To make it worse, one of my most disliked teams (Boston Celtics) won the finals which I didn’t really care for,” he says. 

“I think the NBA is in a transition phase with some of the all-time great stars such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant not making it far in the playoffs for a change. Those three players are superstars and have a huge following that brings viewership when they’re playing,” says Avery. 

Avery also believes that the league would benefit from including younger players in more ads. 

“There are a lot of younger stars in the NBA that need to be marketed more. I believe within a couple of years (if marketed correctly) viewership will increase and there’ll be more interest from the fans. Players like Anthony Edwards, Luka Doncic, Victor Wembanyama, Jason Tatum, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, etc. have an opportunity to ‘take over’ the league,” he says. 

“If these younger players can lead their teams to multiple championships they have the ability to become the face of the league and drive viewership up. Fans enjoy watching winners to cheer them on and also to root against them being great as well. Whichever side fans sit on, it positively impacts viewership with fans wanting to see greatness continue or to watch greatness to fall off and be defeated,” says Avery. 

With these inputs, it calls for the NBA to take action by allowing their players to participate in NBA-related commercials. They can get a start on this by reflecting on the NFL’s strategies. Many NFL players participated in a commercial, promoting the game itself. 

The NFL differentiates itself in these ads better than the NBA as it lets the players participate in the ad and not just feature gameplay. While the highlights are impressive, it doesn’t show the players’ personalities and allow the fandom to grow. When fans are invested in players, they want to buy jerseys and make more time to watch their games.

According to numbers from, viewership of the NBA Finals in the past 22 years was at its highest between 2015 and 2017, when Lebron James and Steph Curry, two all-time greats with passionate fans, were in the finals for multiple years in a row. 

There are a lot of opportunities to improve their growth again and get their numbers to what it was before. It will be important for the NBA to listen to what fans are asking of them: easier accessibility to watch games, pushing start times up, and better marketing for the players. 

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