NBA Chief Adam Silver Says There Is "No data" to Support Trump, Cruz Claims That Backing BLM Hit TV Ratings

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has dismissed the suggestion the league's decision to support the Black Lives Matter movement was to blame for a decline in TV ratings.

In October, President Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested the NBA only had itself to blame for the low TV ratings that blighted the NBA Finals.

Cruz claimed the NBA had "decided to insult half of its fans" with its social justice stance, which Trump suggested had caused fans to tune out as there was "zero interest" in the NBA Finals.

An average of 7.5 million viewers tuned in on ABC to watch the Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Miami Heat in six games to clinch a first NBA title in 10 years, a a 51 percent decline from the previous year.

In a wide-ranging interview with GQ, however, Silver refuted the claim the league's involvement in social campaigns had negatively affected its ratings.

"Now, some people might suggest that the words Black Lives Matter are causing massive amounts of people to tune out the NBA. There's absolutely no data to support that."

Conversely, Silver suggested the league had registered an increase in following due to its social justice stand.

"There's no doubt there are some people—and whether or not they were truly our fans to begin with is unclear—who have become further engaged with the league because they believe in our players and they believe in the positions they've taken, even if they don't agree with everything they say," he added.

"They respect their right to speak out on issues that are important to them."

As social unrest and protests erupted across the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd's death and the shooting of Jacob Blake, the NBA emerged as one of the loudest voices calling for an end to racial discrimination and police brutality.

The league was at the forefront of social justice campaigns and threw its weight threw its support behind the BLM movement—although Silver has repeatedly made clear the league supported the movement's broader values, rather than the organization directly.

The BLM logo was displayed on the courts in Orlando, Florida, where the season resumed following a four-month lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Players took a knee before games and were allowed to wear display social justice messages on their jerseys. Silver admitted the issue with the NBA's support of the BLM movement stemmed from the way some chose to interpret it.

"I could bang the table all day long and say, 'No, our support of Black Lives Matter, that is a social justice movement in which 25 million people took to the streets in the United States to support,'" he added.

"Yet others have chosen to label Black Lives Matter as an anti-American Marxist organization. And I recognize because that's written on our floor, we have to own that point of view as well."

Adam Silver, NBA
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is interviewed before Game 3 of the 2020 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers at AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on October 4 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Kevin C. Cox/Getty

While the NBA Finals ratings cratered, the drop came with several major caveats.

Firstly, the coronavirus pandemic left the NBA Finals in the unfamiliar scenario of battling the NFL and the MLB for audience.

The four-month hiatus forced the NBA to schedule its Finals in October, meaning the series clashed against the MLB playoffs, the NFL (Game 3 marked the first time an NBA Finals game came up against Sunday Night Football) college football and the NHL playoffs.

Of the six games in the NBA Finals, with the exception of Game 3 all partially overlapped with the MLB postseason—at times with more than one matchup—and a similar situation unfolded during the Conference Finals, when all but one of the 11 combined games clashed with the MLB regular season.

Furthermore, the NBA isn't alone in suffering from the fragmentation of viewership due to the unusual circumstances of having multiple major sports in-season simultaneously.

The NFL reported a 13 percent dip in viewership through the first five weeks of the regular season, while the MLB Division series and the Stanley Cup reported a 40 percent and 61 percent decline from 12 months ago.

Additionally, with an election looming large on the horizon, Americans paid more attention to politics than to sports. According to Nielsen data, the audience for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC during the first five nights of the NBA Finals surged by 78% to 8.7 million.

Generally, however, Americans watched less TV than a year ago. In the first five nights of the NBA Finals this year, approximately 76.2 million people watched TV, a 9 percent decline compared with the first five games of the NBA Finals in 2019.

Silver added he was proud of the NBA's increased civic engagement and pointed out that 90 percent of players were now registered to vote.

Additionally, 23 NBA teams used their arenas or training facilities as registration site, polling or voting center for the presidential election last month.