The popularity of the NBA is at an all time high. Each team’s superstars are revered celebrities. And although the ratings keep rising, competition in the league is at an all time low.
The past three finals have been a match-up of the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with the Warriors winning two of the three match-ups.
Every year in free agency, when the players whose contracts have finished look for a new team to join, players end up recruiting each other to build “super teams”. With the way the NBA salary cap works, a team can sign as many superstars to the maximum contract as they want. This leads to all the best players in the league concentrated in about eight teams, leaving the other 22 teams with no hope at a title season.
Seemingly, this should lead to less popularity because the fans of the other 28 teams in the league don’t have a shot at the championship, but this year the ratings are up 32 percent. Of course, this rating jump is only for the games broadcasted nationally on channels like ESPN, TNT and NBA TV, which almost exclusively feature the seven or eight “super teams” in the league.
When you look at the local ratings, the data is quite different. So far in the 2017- 2018 season, 20 teams’ local ratings are either the same or lower than last year. The Dallas Mavericks, a team well below the .500 mark, have seen their local ratings drop by 53 points.
What this means is that people are no longer watching the NBA for their team, people watch the best rated match-ups of the season. For example, when Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, it created an intriguing game plot every time the two teams played. Tensions run high and there is visible frustration or excitement after each play.
Possibly what started the way people watch the NBA revolution is the rise of Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry. He is a national celebrity. Fans follow him like they follow the Kardashians, wondering where he eats and what his family does. I went to the Mavericks game versus the Warriors this year and remember feeling as if I was at a concert when he walked on the court. It was the Steph Curry Concert.
So yes, the national NBA ratings are clearly up, but what will happen to the teams who never compete for a title? Eventually, these teams will lose their fan base and will stop being profitable. Maybe the NBA becomes a 10 team league in the future, or maybe the league will have to establish rules in free agency to keep the players from joining forces. Either way, we’ll see changes in the NBA in the following years.
Story by Michelle Mankoff
Photo provided by Keith Allison