As you all know, the NBA playoffs started this weekend, and there were some decent storylines: The Mavericks losing to the Warriors, Kobe Bryant running out of gas in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls holding off the Heat.
But the biggest storyline should really not be any of these things, as it should be how far the NBA has fallen in the American sporting spectrum. If you think that the NBA is even as close to as popular as the time when Michael Jordan was playing in the mid-1990s, you are kidding yourself.
Let’s take a look at some facts:
-Regular-season network ratings have cut in half since 1998
-One regular-season game this season on ABC got a 1.0 national HH rating, less than a quarter of the average regular-season rating in 1998
-The ratings for this year’s All-Star weekend (especially the game on Sunday) were about as big of a disappointment to Turner as the “South Central” atmosphere was to visitors of the MGM Grand
-Playoff ratings across the board have also faced similar declines
Unless the finals feature the Lakers, or possibly the Cavaliers or the Heat, the ratings for this year’s finals shape up to be the lowest in years. Any marketing or television executive having anything to do with NBA has to be disheartened with these trends.
While pretty much every sport with the exceptions of pro and college football have also faced declines in a world of increasing entertainment options, what these declines also prove is that the sport is becoming culturally marginalized. As the sport has further fused itself with hip-hop culture over the past 10-15 years, liking hip-hop music and the NBA have become one and the same. While the league isn’t going anyway any time soon, it’s becoming more difficult to consider it mainstream culture.
Since basketball, more so than any other major sport, is so synonymous with big name teams and stars, the NBA only succeeds when power teams and players are in the spotlight, like the Bulls of the 1990s or the Lakers of the early 2000s. Frankly, the only way for the NBA to ensure itself of big name teams being in the finals would be for it to abandon the salary cap so that someone like Kobe Bryant wouldn’t be stuck with no star power around him. However, I wouldn’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
For those of you who are excited about this year’s playoffs, enjoy. However, just realize you are not in the majority.