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Do Lower NBA TV Ratings Translate to Less Action at Sportsbooks?

April 2, 2021
NBA Ratings Dropping Affect Gambling

It is no secret that television ratings for NBA basketball in 2020 and in 2021 were lower than in previous years. Take the NBA’s All-Star Game as a great example how viewership has fallen off.

The NBA All-Star Game was – and it still is – one of the sporting world’s greatest spectacles. The “game” evolved into an entire weekend full of basketball fun and festivities. There is the Slam Dunk contest, the Skills Challenge, the 3-Point Shooting contest, and more.

The highest-rated NBA All-Star Game of all time was in 1993. The rosters included some of the biggest names in the game. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, and the list goes on. The weekend festivities were outstanding. Then came the game. Jordan and the Eastern Conference All-Stars would win in overtime. It was the most-watched All-Star game ever with 22.9 million television viewers.

The 2021 version of the game was much different. Yes, the weekend was full of festivities. They were televised as well, but viewership for the game was a measly 5.94 million. That was down a full 18 percent from the previous All-Star Game which attracted over seven million viewers.

What is wrong with NBA basketball?

The Social Justice Factor
In a recent poll conducted by Yahoo News/YouGov, over one-third of the respondents said they were watching less sports because of social justice campaigns. Ironically, data from the Nielsen Ratings shows that NBA viewership for nationally televised games is up 34 percent compared to last season.

While nationally televised games may have more viewers, in total ratings are down for NBA games. A recent game between Milwaukee and Philadelphia, two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, drew a .6 rating. That is a 41 percent decline for a game on the same night in 2019. For the week that ended on March 28, NBA ratings were still below .7. In 2019, comparable games during the same time period showed ratings between .68 and .91.

The NBA did remove all social justice messaging from uniforms and courts. Still, there are those that are choosing not to watch the NBA. Some of it may be the social justice factor. It could also be related to people cutting cable in an effort to save money due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Impact on Betting
With the decrease in NBA television ratings, one might suspect that sports betting action would take a tumble as well. That may not be the case, especially in the United States.

With the May 2018 Supreme Court decision that struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the number of states that offer legal sports gambling has risen dramatically. Not surprisingly, action across the U.S. is on the rise.

Sports gambling was legal only in Nevada until Delaware jumped into the mix in June of 2018. Since then, an additional 18 states have taken legal sports bets and more states have legislation in place to legalize or are considering legislation to legalize.

Michigan Sportbook report

Michigan Sportsbook

The state of Michigan, for example, opened legalized sports betting on March 11,2020. That was just in time for the coronavirus pandemic which shut down nearly every professional sport in the world. Slowly though, sports came back and in February of this year Michigan posted a total handle of over $325.5 million. As the calendar heads into April, college basketball will end but the NBA continues as does the NHL and MLB begins.

It is projected that for 2021 the total revenue that will be brought in by states offering legalized gambling will surpass $3.1 billion. In as little as four years, that number is could be as high as $10 billion.

The Super Bowl and March Madness are the kings of the sports betting world. More is wagered on those two events than any other sport in the U.S. Betting on soccer, the NFL, and the NBA are extremely popular among sports bettors and, like the NBA, those other sports have suffered from falling television ratings too.

While the numbers are not perfectly clear, one thing is certain. Regardless of falling television ratings, people are still betting on NBA games and will continue to do so throughout the rest of the 2021 season and beyond.