NBA Ratings Go Up After Social Justice Messaging Comes Down

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Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The National Basketball Association is beginning to learn the same lesson the National Football League learned: Refuse to allow your sport to become a platform for social justice activism, and people will watch.

The NBA opened their 2020-2021 season on Tuesday night, to their highest ratings in three years.

“The NBA’s Opening Night doubleheader averaged a Nielsen-estimated 2.87 million viewers on TNT Tuesday night, up 1% from last year (2.85M), up 2% from 2018 (2.82M), and the most-watched Opening Night since 2017 (4.88M),” Sports Media Watch reported.

Notably absent from the Association’s Opening Night games was the dramatic and obvious social justice messaging on the court and uniforms. It also appears as though many players stood for the national anthem.

In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the NBA cloaked their summer restart with all types of social justice messaging. The courts at the NBA “bubble” in Orlando had Black Lives Matter written on them, and the players wore jerseys with personalized social justice messages.

Though, the NBA’s “Stick to Sports” season opener on Tuesday compared favorably to the NBA’s BLM-themed July restart.

“Compared to the first night in the NBA’s Walt Disney World ‘bubble’ back in July, Opening Night viewership increased 5% from 2.74 million. Warriors-Nets increased 28% from Jazz-Pelicans (2.11M) while Clippers-Lakers declined 8% from the same matchup (3.35M),” SMW reported.

Also, as Sports Media Watch noted, the ratings for the 2020-2021 opener could have been even better had the games not been so lopsided.

The NBA and its advertisers are still very active on the social justice front. Many of the commercials have an overt or subdued political or social justice tone to them. However, the league seems to have stayed true to Commissioner Adam Silver’s claim that the league would avoid overt in-game political messaging.

“I would say, in terms of the messages you see on the court and the jerseys, this was an extraordinary moment in time when we began these discussions with the players and what we all lived through this summer,” Silver told ESPN in October.

“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.’”

Through one night of programming, it seems as though that policy is working.

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