The NBA could only take a pelting so long before it had the good sense to come in out of the rain. Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN's NBA Countdown it will back off the on-court social justice messaging next season.
Awash in Black Lives Matter imagery during the bubble season this year, the NBA has taken a television ratings pummeling. TV ratings dropped like a rock, and Outkick's Ryan Glasspiegel notes the league's "sexiest franchise," the Los Angeles Lakers and mega-star LeBron James are setting one all-time low after another after another for NBA Finals viewership.
Here's the exchange earlier this week between Commissioner Silver and ESPN's Rachel Nichols:
Rachel Nichols: The NBA has certainly been the most visible billion-dollar organization championing social justice and civil rights. As you noted in your press conference the other day, though, that has not been universally popular. How committed are you to being that going forward?
Adam Silver: We're completely committed to standing for social justice and racial equality and that's been the case going back decades. It's part of the DNA of this league. How it gets manifested is something we're gonna have to sit down with the players and discuss for next season. I would say, in terms of the messages you see on the court and our jerseys, this was an extraordinary moment in time when we began these discussions with the players and what we all lived through this season. My sense is there'll be somewhat a return to normalcy, that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor. And I understand those people who are saying, 'I'm on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game.'
Glasspiegel writes that Silver's remarks are a direct acknowledgement by the NBA commissioner that displaying social justice advocacy on its courts negatively impacted viewership. It's clear that Silver believes "Black Lives Matter" lettering turned off fans.
Sports Illustrated's Jimmy Traina labeled the NBA's television ratings decline as a "severe viewer tune out." Talk about embarrassing, with a 4.1 rating and 7.41 million viewers on ABC, Game 1 was the least-watched NBA Finals contest in 32 years and Games 2 and 3 recorded all-time TV viewing lows. Combined viewing for Games 2 and 3 (12 million) was less than the average viewership for last year's finals games between Toronto and Golden State (15.1 million).
Traina concluded "the league has to be worried about the Finals having no ratings juice at all, especially with the Lakers and LeBron James in there."
Yes, disasters like this can happen when your product repeatedly throws objectionable political and social justice messages in your face.