ABC averaged 2.95 million viewers for the 19-20 season compared to 5.42 million for the 11-12 lockout-shortened season, representing a decline of 45 percent.
TNT’s average NBA viewership is down over 40 percent since 11-12, and ESPN is down roughly 20 percent over that span.
The 2019 playoffs saw a double digit decrease in viewership.
For the NBA's restart so far, ratings have been lower than the pre-pandemic averages.
Other sports have held steady since 2012. The NFL went from a 16.6 million-person average on nationally televised games to 16.5 million. The MLB averaged 2.5 million viewers on network TV in 2012 compared to 2.4 million in 2019.
The NBA, however, continues to lead most nights in the 18-49 demographics. This demographic is also considered more likely to follow the league in non-legacy ways such as streams and highlights.
The American national TV contract, worth $2.66 billion per year, is the NBA’s largest revenue stream. It also will soon be up for an extension and it is not yet known how the NBA's current ratings declines will impact those negotiations.
The Los Angeles Times recently published a piece indicating that sports viewing has been up 100 percent to 150 percent over comparable dates last year as the NBA and NHL is now competing for August eyeballs with the MLB.
“We’ve very abruptly gone from not having enough sports to having more sports that we could possibly watch and because the environment is as crowded as it is,” EVP of research and league operations at Fox Sports Mike Mulvihill said. “Where you’re really seeing the demand in the ratings is in total viewing of sports.”