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Live sports are seeing all time lows in viewership

Live sports ratings across the board have seen massive tumbles as NBA Finals Game 3 hit record lows and NFL ratings dropped by 10%. Yahoo Finance’s Dan Roberts joins The Final Round to discuss why sports ratings are taking a hit.

Video Transcript

JEN ROGERS: It is some sports season. I'm not actually sure which one. It seems like baseball is still happening. I think that, Dan Roberts, you were doing this, working on the story on the ratings on baseball and sports overall.

And I really think part of the reason that these ratings are down is because, I mean, for fans like me, it's hard to keep up with. We're so out of sync with what's going on, like, what season it is, whose championship, where we are. Could that be part of the problem of why we're seeing ratings down?

DAN ROBERTS: I think that is the problem, the biggest problem. It's just a glut of sports. You would never think that you would hear that before, that you could have too much live sports happening all at once.

But you just joked, Jen, what season are we in. Almost every major pro sport right now is happening. I mean, the NHL just wrapped up the Stanley Cup finals. No one watched that, by the way. NHL ratings were up 40% over last year when the NHL first returned because none of the other big sports were back.

Then, ratings plummeted because suddenly, you had everything at once. And I think sports fans even don't know which to watch. That's A. And then, B, casual sports fans-- there's just too much going on. I mean, there are already so many distractions for live sports, you know, Netflix or whatever else you want to watch.

But right now, you've got the election coming. You've got the pandemic-- too many distractions. And so, it's interesting. It was only, what, three months ago, we were talking about how are the pro sports leagues going to manage to come back from the pandemic. Well, then, they all managed it. They all came back. But they all did it at once.

And it probably would have been too much to worry about to try to communicate with each other and say, mm, we shouldn't overlap. But here we are. I mean, I saw someone joke the other day. Whenever in history, before this year, would you have heard a promo for the NBA finals read on Monday Night Football? I mean, those two things are never happening and at the same time.

In game 3 of the NBA Finals, which are happening right now, this was the lowest rated game 3 of the finals ever. I mean, a record low. NFL ratings down 10% through week 4. By the way, NFL ratings, they're still big. I mean, it's still the most watched live event on TV right now, but down big. And I think it's just because there's too much to watch at once. And there's too much going on otherwise.

Of course, you do have a vocal minority right now, saying, oh, it's also all the politicization of the leagues. But I really think that that has quieted a little bit from a few months ago. But you've got people saying, just as they said four seasons ago when NFL ratings dipped, it's the protests. It's the players talking about social justice. I don't buy that part.

JEN ROGERS: Yeah, really, the last time we were so obsessed with ratings was with the NFL when-- during I think the year after Kaepernick, really. And you did a lot of reporting around that.

But the WNBA's ratings have actually been OK. They've been very political. I know they're coming off a lower bar than many of the men's sports are, but just in terms of the politics there.

I guess, what's the domino effect, what's the knock-on effect for companies? Because they pay a lot for these rights. What happens with advertisers? Will any of that be impacted, or is it all just way too soon?

DAN ROBERTS: I think it absolutely will be impacted, especially as the pandemic drags on, and especially even when the coast is clear, so to speak. It's going to be a long time before a large number of people feel comfortable attending a sports event. I mean, outdoors, maybe.

But think of an indoor NBA game. You're shoulder to shoulder with a stranger. It's like at the movie theater. And there's really a comfort spectrum level here. And as a result, A, the leagues that are more reliant on game day revenue are in trouble. MLB in trouble. MLB needs the revenue that it gets from fans, from butts in seats. MLS in trouble.

NFL can last longer this way because for the NFL, the vast majority of revenue comes from broadcast. So as long as the games are on TV, they're OK. But that's A.

And then, B, I do think as a result, you're going to have some of these rights deals really end up lower. I mean, for so many years, we've gotten used to every time the leagues renegotiate or re-up their broadcast deals, the total is higher than the last time. It just keeps going up. What would stop this train?

Well, maybe not for NFL, but you might see one of the leagues start getting a little bit less the next time they renegotiate their broadcast deal. Because, you know, you look at ratings right now. There's just no guarantee that things will continue apace.

I sort of feel like when you talk about the Pro leagues and you talk about the revenue growth every year, there's the NFL, which arguably still a sure thing, and then there's everything else. I'm very concerned for Major League Baseball as a baseball fan. You know, I'm already thinking about next season. They need to find a way to have more fans in the stands. And if they can't pandemic wise, they're in trouble.

JEN ROGERS: I'm very happy to know that I'm not the only one confused with all the sports going around. That's good to hear.