NBA Ratings Crash Could Dramatically Lower Advertising, Music Licensing Fees In 2021

The Lakers' Lebron James scores against the Miami Heat in an NBA Finals Game 1 match-up.
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The Lakers' Lebron James scores against the Miami Heat in an NBA Finals Game 1 match-up.
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The Lakers’ Lebron James scores against the Miami Heat in an NBA Finals Game 1 match-up on September 30th.

A unexpectedly sharp NBA ratings drop could have substantial ramifications for 2021 advertising rates and music licensing fees, according to industry experts.

A substantial and sustained drop in NBA viewership numbers is now causing advertisers to recalibrate their budgets for next year, according to details disclosed this week. In turn, those advertisers are likely to pay substantially lower music licensing and production fees — if they remain advertisers at all.

Across-the-board, NBA ratings have been down. But a crash in viewership for the marquee NBA Finals battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat is generating serious concern. The Hollywood Reporter noted that 7.41 million viewers tuned in to see Lebron James and the Lakers battle the Heat in a Game 1 match-up on ABC and its network properties on September 30th. That’s the lowest figure in 26 years — and possibly, all time.

It’s also down a sizable 45 percent from last year’s Game 1 match-up between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors.  Game 2 was even worse, with viewership down another 40% off of Game 1 — which is likely another all-time low.

(Update: Game 3 is now officially the lowest-rated NBA Finals game in history, with fewer than 6 million viewers.)

Those numbers are causing both the advertising and music licensing sectors to seriously rethink their positions for next year.

In a discussion this week with one prominent advertising agency executive, Digital Music News learned that numerous advertisers “may be hitting pause” on 2021 NBA campaign buys, “even if just to renegotiate and win some better [pricing] terms”.  That sentiment was echoed by a rival agency, with both actively buying ads across NBA and major sports franchise seasons.

Both noted that some advertisers are actively considering pulling their NBA advertising in 2021, though reasons weren’t cited.  If the downward ratings trend continues, one agency executive noted that “you could see a pretty big plunge” in advertising revenue starting next season.

The drawback reflects a marked change, with major advertisers typically jockeying for exclusives and plum slots ahead of the next season. That is prompting fears of a broader trickle-down into music licensing, with payouts to both music creators, direct-licensing publishers, and production houses lowered given broader budget cutbacks.

Technically, the Lakers-Heat Game 1 audience is the worst NBA Finals ratings ever recorded, according to the report, though records weren’t kept prior to 1994.

By comparison, the next-lowest tally belongs to the 2003 matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets, which drew 8.06 million viewers.

The lukewarm reception came despite the presence of the NBA’s top superstar, Lebron James. Last year, James was absent from the Finals, though the high-scorer is certainly making his presence felt this time around. Also gracing the court is another huge name, Anthony Davis, who put away 34 points to lead the Lakers to a commanding win. James scored 25 while pulling down 13 rebounds.

The sizzling combo somehow couldn’t rack up the ratings score, however.  Amazingly, the Finals game almost got out-viewed by ‘The Masked Singer,’ which racked up nearly 7 million viewers on the same night. That follows a troubling showing for the NBA Conference Finals, which collectively were down 35 percent year-over-year.

The reasons for the NBA ratings drops are unclear and debated, though several factors have been suggested.

The Finals have been substantially delayed due to COVID concerns, and played within a ‘bubble’ facility without fans. That workaround eliminated a large bloc of teams from contention, while eliminating the fan electricity that accompanies high-stakes basketball battles.

But other non-COVID factors could also be at play. For months during lockdowns, sports remained quiet, leaving many fans to find other forms of entertainment.  Outdoor activities like cycling, walking, and golfing have surged, raising the question of whether healthier, more active habits are now replacing sedentary sports-watching.

Others have pointed to the NBA’s heavy focus on racial justice protests, which could be splitting audiences. A recent Harris poll found that 40 percent of viewers are tuning out because “the league has become too political.” Another 19 percent cited the NBA’s associations with China as another reason for losing interest.

Of course, there are still several games left in the Lakers-Heat Finals series. And a stunning Game 7 finale could certainly stir things up. That possibility, according to a separate executive, is prompting a wait-and-see attitude among agencies and advertisers. That means waiting for the full 2020 result before making any decisions, even if that means missing placement opportunities.

A separate question is whether advertisers will bow out entirely. The NBA certainly draws a healthy demographic of engaged viewers, including coveted younger males, though better deals could crop up elsewhere for more predictable programs.

Meanwhile, empty stadiums are causing a crash of their own. PROs like ASCAP and BMI aren’t drawing any revenue from in-stadium plays, a problem exacerbated by lowered television and online audiences.

But this isn’t a problem that’s isolated to the NBA.

The NBA’s ratings are taking a beating, but other major sports leagues are also enduring serious ratings hits.  That includes the NHL, whose Stanley Cup playoff series suffered a dramatic 61 percent year-over-year drop.  Part of the problem is scheduling, with player-led game cancellations and protests further complicating existing COVID realignments.

The NFL has also witnessed massive, double-digit ratings declines during its early weeks, with NASCAR also weathering serious viewer drops.  Collectively, those declines could spell big bargains for advertisers next year — but a serious hit to both synch and performance royalties for the music industry.

64 Responses

      • More Liberal Nonsense

        People are tuning out because they want to watch basketball, not a political lecture.

        • BLM Blindspot

          It’s very simple folks. Millions of ordinary Americans (the ones who you need to sell ads to) see BLM equating to “burn, looter, murder” and extreme violence and thought silencing. Look at the latest polls they are extremely alienated by all this. They don’t want to see it painted on the hardwood floor, on jerseys, see the flag disrespected, non stop.

          • Tammy

            We tune in to watch professional sports. We do not tune in to watch professional athletes play politics.

    • Anonymous

      i think we should go inner city and protest and yell,,,Black Kids Lives Matter,,,
      ,,,they are killing each other,,,that is the problem,,,,not white people

    • Mike

      Basketball use to be my game. I have not watched one bit of their season, especially when it involves that asswipe, Lebron James.

  1. All lives matter

    Im sorry but your full of crap….the reason the NBA ratings are crashing it because of all the black lives matter nonsense….nobody wants to tune into a game to be preached to about politics…. “All Lives Matter”

    • Brett

      Wrong. I suppose you can blame all other sports lagging on BLM also, because they are all languishing right now? BLM has nothing to do with this. Nobody is preaching anything when I watch a game. You obviously haven’t watched; just guessing. It’s a general diversion in society right now due to the pandemic.

      By your last three words, it is apparent you don’t know what BLM is about.

      • Rey

        BLM is not about Black Lives. They are a Marxist front organization for the Democrat Party funded by a coalition of individuals including George Soros. Since they began protesting and rioting, crime has risen to historic levels in big cities, race relations have deteriorated and blacks relations with police has worsened.

        • Dr. Faucibreath

          Once you go to the “Marxist” chant, you’ve lost all credibility. There is no Marxism happening (not that you know what it means). George Soros? Wow, you’re really off the deep end. Sure, why not mention Bill Gates and talk about the Hilary Clinton hard drives that were taken to a Colorado mountain to be bleached.

          You need a mental evaluation and some help.

      • the destroyer

        nice try b u t t lic ker. trump will kill it and your kind will freak for another 5 years. amy will be confirmed before the election you putz. go suck off the little boy down the street you f a g g o t. you will freak for 4 more years starting 11-3-20. amy will be confirmed before the election you p u t z. ha ha ha ha we win, you lose ha ha ha ha

      • b a d a s s repub

        brett the liberal c o c k s u ck e r. blm means butt licking morons. too bad LeBron was not on the helicopter instead of Kobe. blm will destroy everything libs have wanted. they let the blm losers and Antifa try to make America think we are not safe under Trump and it is and will backfire spectacularly. 11-3-20 we will have a new Supreme and 4 more glorious years of Trump and that will make 150 million Americans laugh uncontrollably at your twisted kind and it will be fun to watch cnn tank even more and the damage cannot be undone for sports. You take a knee and we take a pass d I c k h e a d

      • Sports isn't fun any more

        No, nobody said they’re preaching! However, it’s plastered everywhere, from warm-up shirts to off-center of the court. It’s right there on their jerseys. Yadadadadada!

        Sadly, Mr. James walking off the court with time still left on the clock doesn’t help with attitude or sportsmanship. Someone has some explaining to do? There should have been technical fouls called for it, no matter how many seconds left on the clock. Point is: he didn’t care? So why should fans care!?

        When asked about China, Mr.James stated he needed to read up on what was going on in China. Huh? Really, it was all over the news and social media. Players care about themselves and their money and possessions.

        If they really cared should they have done this years ago !!!
        Shaking my head !!!

        • Angelito

          You jump to a lot of conclusions with no basis for it. Until you’ve walked a mile in someone elses shoes…

          If you don’t like people using their right to free speech, go live in Russia.

          • Callie

            No one has to go
            To Russia. They just don’t have to watch the games. And that’s what’s been happening. These uneducated, privileged athletes want to lecture the working class on oppression and unfairness? Yeah, not gonna work.

      • Plain and simple

        The problem with BLM is it’s all over the place. Its complementing bad behavior in some instances. Wisconsin shooting he disregarded police orders going to his car. Even a white man would have been shot attempting to do that. George Flloyed yes that was disgusting, but concentrate on those, and not every single time a Black man gets shot by the police. That’s why many don’t get BLM is it’s all over the place with no rhyme or reason.

      • fred rayner

        You are blind, I love basketball and have given it up and blm is the reason and its across all sports the same reason so quit being stupid

      • Sick of Privileged Professional Athletes

        Really BLM is not the reason? What is taking a knee? What about having a rapist name on a jersey?

        • Ron

          Amen. 100% agree. Nothing they can do to get me back. I hope the entire organization’s go broke. Let the players and owners get a real job working 10 times as hard for less than one % of what they make now.

      • Ron

        If you believe that you’re oblivious to what’s going on. I use to faithfully watch nfl, nba and ncaa football, Collin started my decline to the point I won’t even turn my tv off on a channel that is going to air a game. You would think with the pandemic ratings would be through the roof but no their down and people are loving it.

      • EA

        I no longer watch, and it is because of the social justice warriors. Athletes and celebrities try to dictate to middle class America what we should think. I’ll never be a follower of the entitled and undereducated far left.

    • Ron

      Instead of black lives matter it should be black looters matter.

  2. Mo

    I’m not a fan of sports figures getting involved in politics. All lives matter. Denounce violence.

    • Jeff

      Your racism and bias are showing.

      Black lives matter. It’s not hard to say. And if you really understood what it meant, as opposed to pushing back because it’s about black people, then you would realize that it actually means all lives matter.

      • Angelito

        Does it also mean Burn, Loot, and Murder?

        Black Marxists Matter?

        Go preach to some moronic SJW liberal. The only thing BLM stands for is anarchy and the hatred of white culture. Period.

      • Anonymous

        Being called racist by someone defending an organization with race as the first word in their name. SMH

  3. Stinger

    Mba, nfl, public events, political instability. This is America saying no to all forms of liberalism. We have a hard left wimg of radical hardlune liberals that are basicaly having withdrawls for 8 years of Obama. It’s not just Americans. Its all over the world. We know it doesnt work. We tried it. Learned from it. I think you get one or the other president. The warm and cool but not very affective or a brash boss type thats super affective. But everyone hates the boss. Like or hate the boss but bossngets sht done. Amdnthats what we need.

    • Thom

      You’ve lost it, Stinger. This isn’t about politics. It’s about ratings for sports and why all sports are low right now. The reason is that people are consumer with other, more important, things right now.

      • Wow

        Wow, you really need more clues? Not sure if you are reading all of the comments here…

  4. Dr. Faucibreath

    The ratings crash was anything but “unexpected.” Only deranged Trump haters want to watch angry and uneducated black men preach marxism and hatred.

    • Angelito

      Looking at your collective comments, it’s clear that you don’t know what Marxism really is, have ever watched sports, have a clue about real politics or are living anywhere other than your mom’s basement. You’re pathetic.

      • Geronimo

        Hey, wait, don’t bash Fauci. He’s had a number of good posts here. He frequently shows people how stupid he really is and how his bias is undermining any intelligence he once had.

          • Dr. Faucibreath

            You guys are all mocking me and I don’t like it one bit. I’m really just a flaming homo pedophile who loves Trump because he is one, too.

      • Dr. Faucibreath

        How did you come up with that clever and original “mom’s basement” insult? Never heard that one before.

        Now, go sit in the corner and try to matter.

        • Dr. Faucibreath

          Last I heard, you were sucking cock in the alleys of WeHo.

          • Dr. Faucibreath

            No, I was just munching an Okiedog while you were group-pounded in your bungie.

  5. Biden Sniffs Children

    Very predictable. The NBA went political and SJW. People watch sports for entertainment to escape, not to get lectured by multi-millionaires.

    • Donald J Trump

      I agree The NBA is such a terrible organization. I prefer the pedofiles unite group, meself. Those young boys are something after a little aderrall. Boy oh boy, just like donnie and eric used to be. I am such a sicko, but people are stupid and will voted for me.

  6. Johnny Efectivo

    Can we just send all the NBA BLM communists to a great black nation, Liberia? I will buy the rowboats and paddles.

  7. Mike H

    Basketball use to be my game. I have not watch any of this seasons games. Especially when it involves that asswipe Lebron James.

    • Geronimo

      Yeah, he’s not only the best basketball player in the league now, but one of the greatest of all time. I hate watching great players. You’re an idiot.

      • fred rayner

        No yout an idiot, we chose what we watch and give our money to, greatness is more than stats and lebum is an ass period and I dont need to watch an ass. Jordan was class not ass!

        • Big

          Fred, so right. Michael was a professional for real. Loved his style.

  8. Brian

    NBA ratings are at historic lows. What is not being reported is the fact that the US population in 1985 was appx 230 million. The US population today is 330 million.

    Not only is viewership dropping in real numbers, the drop relative to the growth in the US population is exponential

    • Reality Chick

      A statistician you are not. Your calculations are actually off as they assume that the population rises at the same rate as interest in the NBA. It didn’t happen that way due to a couple things. In fact, based upon a shorter season and comparing this year at the same time to last year, the viewership is actually up.

      One big reason why people like to say or think that the NBA numbers are down is because a little less than half of America is stupid. These are the Trump supporters who follow him blindly and buy a specific brand of beans because he says so. What a bunch of chumps. Then he bashes the NBA because he doesn’t like what the players or leagues says. Way to support the freedom of speech for these Americans, who he loves when they are on his side. But, this has been the way with Trump He likes people until they realize he’s a nutjob, then they either leave him or turn on him, at which time he bashes them, tries to minimize them and reverses on everything he ever said about them. Of course, his flip-flop on people doesn’t phase his followers. They’re stupid zombies.

      Thank you, from a lifelong Republican who is sick of people hiding behind the flag and calling themselves patriots when they are just fools.

      • fred rayner

        Huh? Did she actually say numbers are up? Ok honey that’s why advertising dollars are dropping like flies sometimes lies are really lies. If numbers where really up so would ad dollars so quit lying we all read the story to get here you must not have, but then you still havent figured it out yet, you call all dumb but in reality it’s you that have no clue.

        • Reality Chick

          As opposed to posting your beliefs and opinion, do your research.

  9. Nope

    It’s about spoiled brats taking things that aren’t theirs to take. To be fair I’m sure not everyone involved is doing this but we see a lot of people taking advantage and using it as an excuse to pillage cities. Destroying things is never an answer to any issue.

    • Hyton

      Look deeper. It’s about an underlying agenda and alt right groups piggybacking on peaceful protests, causing civil unrest and mayhem. Spoiled brats? You’ve got it all wrong.

  10. Angelito

    Ha! The woke crowd panics because they know their violent and racist ship is sinking.

    Run over one woke liberal every day.

  11. Big

    I haven’t watched one game, not one semi finals game, not one finals game, I will never watch another game again. I hope the NBA, NFL, NHL all burn and their profits go to 0.

  12. matt

    we the fans now need to take it to the advertisers of these nba things