Social Justice Messaging Goes Down, Ratings Go Up

The National Basketball Association is learning the same lesson as the National Football League: Don’t use your sport as a platform for social justice, and people will watch.

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

The NBA’s Opening Night 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),” according to Sports Media Watch.

What was different?

What the opening night games lacked in comparison to last season was the dramatic in-your-face social justice messaging on the court and players’ uniforms. Also, many players actually stood for the national anthem on opening night.

Following the death of George Floyd, the NBA flooded the court with tons of social justice messages. 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.

“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.

Sports Media Watch also noted that the ratings for the 2020-2021 opener could have been even better if the games were not so lopsided.

The NBA, along with it advertisers are still very active when it comes to social justice activism. Many of the commercials have an underlying political or social justice tone. However, the league is staying true to what Commissioner Adam Silver said back in November.

“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.

He 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. And, I understand those people who are saying, ‘I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game.’”