Viewership statistics for the first quarter of the 2019/20 season were released this week. Given the the offseason hype — at first glance — they may appear alarming.
Major media outlets are blaming things like the NFL and early season load management of star players as key factors at play.
In 2019, only analyzing one traditional element of what we should consider ‘viewership’ is incubating a false narrative on the league’s engagement.
As the NBA itself, the 30 teams and hundreds of extended fan communities all vie for our “second screen,” our smartphones have quickly become a more robust source on game day than a singular cable network.
Here are a few reasons why these viewership metrics are misleading of the NBA’s true fan engagement this season.
As a fan, I follow @NBA, @Raptors, @BrooklynNets, + a handful of players from each team, along with all major outlets (ESPN, Sports Center, The Score, etc). Additionally, there are also unaffiliated New Media accounts like @SidelineSources, House of Highlights, @NBAmemes and The Gist Sports adding different angles to the game 24/7.
A typical game day looks like this:
As fans, our Feeds are full updates and highlights in near real time. Beyond that, high consumers of Stories, can find even more immediate updates where available
Take a five minute smartphone tour of any digital native fan and you’re likely to see conversations happening in private (WhatsApp, Snapchat, Messenger, SMS) as well as public (Twitter, Reddit).
Real time chat allows fans to closely keep tabs on a game or games without actually watching on cable.
In a busy world it’s not always possible to watch a full game… especially if a game tips off is at 10:30pm (more on that in a sec.).
Similarly, maybe you don’t want to watch a full Mavs game (sorry, Cuban), but you do want to see Luka drop those 40 points without breaking a sweat.
The NBA cranks out ~10 minute game recaps for every regular season game (i.e. 1,230 total) along with playoffs.
So whether you’ve missed your team, are a fane of the game, or just have a generationally youthful attention span the NBA delivers a very well utilized option to ‘view’ recent games.
You don’t realize how hard it is to be the fan of a western conference team living in the east until it happens to you (for me, RIP Vancouver Canucks 2016-present).
LeBron plays the majority of his games at the tail end of NBA game days (9-10:30pm EST). A lot of fans have followed him around the country (burning jerseys all along the way). With all the options available, many of east coasters may continue to sleep on these late night games until the playoffs roll around.
The only thing these viewership metrics are truly relevant for are long-term negotiations between Turner (TNT), Disney (ESPN, RSN) and the NBA (at +2.5 Billion/year is not an insignificant negotiation).
NBA viewership, if given a more modernized definition, is significantly healthier than publicized because the current baseline narrative is missing massive chunks of what, in my opinion, should be considered an element of viewership.
p.s. for reference, Billboard Hot 100 added “YouTube plays” to its metrics in 2013. Just sayin’ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯