What's the deal with the low ratings for the NBA Finals? By all rights this should have been a series for the purists, for all the people that decry the manufactured hype and superstardom the NBA has pushed down our collective throats since, well ... as long as I can remember anyways. But instead it appears more Americans would rather watch a fifth rate American Idol ripoff about ballroom dancing rather than the Finals. Why is that? If you listen to the commissioner, fans entered NBA arenas in record numbers this year and TV ratings were great.
There's four things I'd like to point to for the decline in ratings for the Finals series.
Firstly, the games themselves have been absolute stinkers. Each one has been a blowout with the outcome decided by the middle to end of the 3rd quarter. Not one has gone down to the wire, so the casual fan tuning in mid-game and seeing one team up by 15 or more points has no reason to watch the rest. And the most exciting player on either team is an Argentinian that doesn't dunk much, another negative for the casual fan.
Secondly, the NBA's best broadcast partner isn't involved. For the entire regular season and playoffs Turner has done a fantastic job. They have the best announcing teams and a very entertaining trio in Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. Fans will tune in just to see what Barkley would say on a given night -- he's become the new Howard Cosell for the 2000's. But at the sport's highest pinnacle of competition, the TV broadcast is turned over to ABC, who it seems has hired the entire worthless crew from the old NBA on NBC broadcasts, which were excruciating at best and unwatchable at worst. Al Michaels is a fine football announcer, but doesn't do much for me at all calling hoops.
Thirdly, the NBA desperately needs to take a page from Major League Baseball's book and forbid ALL hiring announcements until after the conclusion of the Finals series. This keeps the attention focused where it belongs -- on the games, not on the Phil Jackson/Kobe Bryant soap opera or on Larry Brown or any of the other various job openings around the league. I'm very disappointed that David Stern hasn't made a pronouncement to that effect because it's insulting to both the organizations that made it this far to be usurped in the media by the Lakers.
Fourth, both sides need to shut up about a lockout until after the Finals are over. The NBA and the player's union have blown this about as badly as can be done -- the average fan has little to no sympathy for either side, and the NBA has never really come completely back to the heights it occupied before the 1998 lockout occurred. The departure of Michael Jordan from the Bulls and the end of that team's dominant run certainly is a factor in that, but both sides need to realize they run the risk of becoming just like the NHL -- irrelevant. They don't have the dominant stranglehold on the American sporting consciousness that they did in the late 80s to early 90s. They'll never have the cache of the NFL or NASCAR, who have all week to build up to a single event; and they don't have the tradition or the promise of a summery day outside that MLB can offer. This upcoming labor negotiation is a crossroads for the league, and a test of David Stern's leadership abilities as commissioner. For the sake of the sport, let's hope both sides come to their senses and work out a new collective bargaining agreement quickly.