Injured superstars behind NBA ratings drop, says consulting firm

02 January 2020 2 min. read
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Injuries to the National Basketball League’s top superstars has directly contributed to an early season decline in TV ratings, according to a recent report from Altman Vilandrie & Company, a strategy consultancy focusing on telecom, media, and technology.

Earlier this year, the firm conducted a 5,000-respondent sports survey, which analyzed sports viewership and fandom. The survey found NBA viewers were least likely to watch because of a favorite team (76% compared to 88% of team-driven NFL fans); instead, NBA fans were the mostly likely to watch because of a favorite player, at 54%. In comparison, 32% of NFL fans and 35% of MLB fans said their interest was driven by a favorite player.

The player-driven influence of the NBA was reinforced by fans’ belief that the draw of a certain player was the most important factor in their NBA fandom, with 40% agreeing it was an influence. This was the highest proportion among team sports, and only surpassed by tennis, at 48%.

Injured superstars behind NBA ratings drop, says consulting firm

Aside from being more focused on star players, NBA fans also skewed younger and more diverse. The NBA was the most popular league among 18-24 year-olds, while the NFL was the most popular among all other age groups. Meanwhile, only 36% of avid NBA fans categorized themselves as white or Caucasian, compared to 71% of avid NFL fans.

Many of the top “favorite” players in the NBA have missed the season thus far due to injury, including #2, Steph Curry, and #3, Kevin Durant. In such a player- and personality-driven league, the assumption is that this star deficit accounts for some of the 16% drop in TV ratings for the NBA this season.

According to Altman Vilandria & Company, the cumulative interest level in watching the six stars who have missed every game this season – Curry, Durant, Thompson, Cousins, Williamson, and Wall – is 16%, and roughly equivalent to the 16% drop in ratings.

“This unprecedented spate of injuries has created a superstar void that has had a real effect on TV ratings,” said Matt Del Percio, a principal at Altman Vilandrie & Company and director of the survey. “Our analysis shows that NBA fans, who are much younger on average than fans of the other major team sports, make viewing decisions largely based on watching superstar players. The good news for the NBA is that the decline in ratings seems to be largely explained by the absence of these players rather than a decline in overall interest in the NBA.”