Ways NBA Can Solve Its Ratings Problem for NBA Finals

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2013

Ways NBA Can Solve Its Ratings Problem for NBA Finals

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    Game 5 of the NBA Finals drew a four-year low in viewership ratings, picking up an 11.4 overnight rating from the 114-104 San Antonio Spurs win over the Miami Heat.

    Last year's Game 5 landed a 12.6 rating in the Miami-Oklahoma City Thunder series, likewise with Game 5 in 2011's Heat-Dallas Mavericks series.

    Perhaps part of the reason why this year landed a low rating compared to the past few seasons is that in the past two seasons, Game 5 has fallen on a Thursday night, historically one of the best nights for ratings as far as the NBA goes.

    Otherwise, you've got to chalk it up to the lingering (and totally insane) opinion that your casual basketball fan might have of the Spurs—that they're a dull team to watch.

    While the ratings are nowhere near as low as the 2003 Spurs-New Jersey Nets NBA Finals (that Game 5 landed an embarrassingly low 7.7 rating), it is odd that they're still lower than 1999's Game 5 between the Spurs and New York Knicks that hit an 11.9.

    The ratings for this series have been a bit disappointing, but that's only in comparison to the past four years, which have been record-setting for the NBA.

    Ratings are still up compared to the mid-2000s, and the NBA is as popular as ever.

    However, a stagnant league is not one that makes the commissioner happy, and only growth will satiate his hunger.

    In order to spice things up a bit, perhaps a few changes could be made to the way it runs things.

7. Rig It

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    Of course I'm being facetious, but one way to get the ratings up into all-new uber-heights would be to simply rig who ends up there.

    If the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers play in the NBA Finals, every game is going to land a 15 share of the audience.

    It's pretty simply observed that larger markets breed larger ratings shares, even though that's been a bit lessened with the worldwide expansion of the league.

    San Antonio and Miami aren't huge markets, but they have recognizable stars with a dedicated fanbase, even if one of those fanbases has only recently become dedicated.

    Markets still play a big part when it comes to ratings, but not nearly as big since the NBA became one of the world's most popular professional sports leagues.

6. Where's the Hype?

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    There's something about the NBA when it comes to hyping up the NBA Finals that just seems to fall short.

    On the one hand, it has the Miami Heat, a team that's supposed to exemplify everything that many basketball fans hate: superstars teaming up together, a bandwagon so full that wheelwrights are cobbling together new wheels every day and a bunch of guys who have been deemed to be floppers by the public.

    On the other hand, there are the knights in grey armor, San Antonio remaining the embodiment of a properly run NBA team (or at least the story could go), in the NBA Finals to defend the honor of the league.

    Where was the buildup of storylines around LeBron James' legacy, Tim Duncan's final run, Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili euro-stepping at each other, and Tony Parker making his case to be the league's best point guard?

    All we got was a few commercials, some hype about LeBron and a thumbs-up from David Stern.

5. Eliminate Blatant "Veiled" Advertisements

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    It's hard to imagine that many people who watch the NBA Finals enjoy being played like fools, especially when it comes to advertisements. 

    Most people can deal with ads around the arena, on the scorers table, and perhaps even on the floor and on jerseys if the NBA decides to move forward, but trying to pass off an in-game commercial from Samsung as a legitimate segment between quarters is just pandering to sponsors.

    Some dude named Jesse Williams has been showing up before tipoff and after halftime of each game to show off features of some Samsung smartphone. The broadcast does its best to disguise it as him showing highlights or stats from the first half.

    Nobody's fooled by the spots, and if anything, they're a bit condescending.

    It's gotten to the point where changing the channel every time his face pops up on the screen is a definite option, and sometimes it's easy to get distracted by the Miss USA pageant on another channel.

4. The ESPN Guys

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    Most of the talk when it comes to the pregame shows put on by TNT and ESPN is just how much better the TNT crew is than the guys on ESPN.

    Whether it's because of the limitations that their Disney overlords pass down, or just the talent of the crew in comparison to TNT's Inside the NBA cast, something about ESPN's halftime show gets the channel changing every time.

    Bill Simmons is terrific, and Jalen Rose can be as good as anybody on Inside the NBA at his best, but there's not a constantly pushing force like TNT has in Ernie Johnson to keep the show moving along.

    Oh, and of course there's Magic Johnson, who never seems to have anything productive to add to the broadcast.

    They've got a mediocre lead-in with their current pregame show, even if it is the best crew they've put forth in years.

    It's time to give them a bit of freedom, make a few changes to the cast and really let the show grow some wings.

3. Less Abrasive Commentary

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    Jeff Van Gundy is an amazing broadcaster, and he is the perfect person to call out the NBA on its discrepancies from game-to-game and the various rules that either don't make sense or aren't being enforced enough.

    He knows how to call a game. He's a former head coach, so he's extremely knowledgeable, and he can be entertaining.

    However, one of the biggest problems with Van Gundy is that he is quite often abrasive, whether it be in harsh criticism of officials or just one of his many tangents.

    Throughout the regular season, and even into the playoffs, he's the perfect guy to put on the sidelines and give the hardcore NBA fans someone to agree with, for the most part.

    Casual fans, on the other hand, are met with the constant nit-picking style that Van Gundy has, and it seems as if it can be a bit off-putting.

    Mike Breen is fine as a play-by-play man, but somebody like Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello or even Doug Collins would be a nice, smooth color commentator next to Breen's silky play-by-play.

2. Guest Broadcasters

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    Sometimes a few quirky additions to the broadcast crew is enough to spice things up and get people excited about something other than the actual basketball game.

    Mike Breen is magnificent, and most people enjoy hearing Jeff Van Gundy's rants (to an extent) or the ramblings of Hubie Brown or Mike Fratello when they're on the microphone.

    However, adding a third voice to the broadcast every once in a while is definitely a nice change of pace.

    Add Bill Walton for a game or two, pick up Doc Rivers, Doug Collins or some other head coach of an eliminated team to get things rolling.

    Going even further, why not ditch the tired old sideline interview and put a player out there rather than Doris Burke?

    If Charles Barkley's interview with Gregg Popovich from the beginning of the season is any kind of evidence for mixing things up, then ABC could get really creative with the sideline interviews.

1. Go Back to NBC

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    I'm not generally one of the folks who will harp on and on about '90s basketball, but if there's one thing from the '90s that should have stuck around, it's the way NBC produced NBA games.

    NBC is currently reprising its great sports coverage with the Stanley Cup playoffs, even if it is hiding a few too many games on NBC Sports Network. 

    When NBC broadcasts an important sporting event, the show is centered around the game as the main event.

    NBC had the rights to the NBA Finals through 2002, which was an unfortunate time for ratings in the league.

    Michael Jordan was gone, a lockout ravished the popularity of the NBA and there was a definite identity crisis.

    However, it also held the rights throughout the '90s, when ratings were at a height that will likely never be matched again.

    ABC's affiliation with ESPN has grown into a bit of a sideshow at times, looking more like an attempt to mash in as much advertising as possible in the process of showing a basketball game.