NBA exec hints social justice messages will ‘be left off the floor’ next season after ratings disaster

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The National Basketball Association may finally be getting the message about its very vocal stand on social justice issues.

After a strong showing of statements on NBA players’ jerseys and on the ball courts appeared to destroy viewership for the games, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is thinking of a different strategy for next season when the messages will be “largely left off the floor.”

Fans appeared to have turned off the NBA once the season restarted after the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the sports world. The league’s strong backing of social justice issues was expressed as players wore jerseys with messages and the courts where the games were played at the Disney World “Bubble” in Orlando, Fla., were each painted with Black Lives Matter signage.

Friday’s Game 2 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat saw a drop from last year’s Game 2 Finals and was watched by only 6.07 million viewers. Game 3 hit a new ratings low as the least-watched NBA Finals game, according to Sports Media Watch, with only 5.94 million viewers.


(Source: ESPN)

“We’re completely committed to standing for social justice and racial equality and that’s been the case going back decades,” Silver said in an appearance on NBA Countdown this week before Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

“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,” he told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

“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 summer,” Silver continued. “My sense is there’ll be somewhat a return to normalcy, that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor.”

The low audience numbers occurred despite the participation of the league’s best player, LeBron James. Ratings tanked as the season went on and after players and teams launched a boycott during the league’s restart after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

After boycotting the games, NBA players negotiated a deal in which the organization pledged to form a social justice coalition and to allow some stadiums to be turned into polling places in November. James, a 16-time NBA All Star, was among the very vocal players advocating social justice changes.

In early September, President Trump warned that the “highly political” stands would drive away fans.

“And I understand those people who are saying ‘I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game,’” Silver reacted during his ESPN interview.

Outkick’s Ryan Glasspiegel noted that “this is as close to a direct acknowledgment from the NBA Commissioner as you’ll ever see that embedding the social justice advocacy directly into the on-court product hurt the viewership.”

“What proportion you want to assign to that phenomenon can be a matter of opinion and conjecture. You can’t deny, after watching that interview, that Silver believes it has contributed to the decline,” he wrote.

Twitter users weighed in on the commissioner’s remarks and the wake-up call to the league.

 

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Frieda Powers

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