NBA All-Star Game Takes a Sharp Nose Dive in TV Ratings Despite New Format

The NBA held its annual all-star weekend in just one night last Sunday, and it probably seemed like a good idea. However, the glorified scrimmage that saw its annual skills challenge, 3-point shootout and slam dunk contest in the same evening was anything but a slam dunk in the TV ratings.

In fact, it was more like an air ball.

The 2021 NBA All-Star Game had its lowest ratings ever, and its smallest TV audience. The game drew just 5.94 million viewers, which is the only time it's ever failed to draw 6 million viewers. It was the third time the game drew fewer than 7 million viewers in the last 13 years. The 3.1 overnight rating Sunday was also the lowest in history.

This year's game that was Team LeBron versus Team Durant was down 18.1 percent from the 2020 game in Chicago (7.28 million viewers) that also served as a weekend-long tribute to Kobe Bryant, who had died the previous month in a helicopter crash.

LeBron James NBA All-Star Game
Lebron James #23 of Team LeBron reacts against Team Durant during the first half in the 70th NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena on March 07, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The benchmark was set in 1993, when 22.9 million viewers tuned in to watch Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone play the game in Salt Lake City. The last time the NBA All-Star game drew at least 10 million viewers was 2003, which was the final appearance for Michael Jordan at the game. That was also the first year the game moved from network (NBC) to cable (TNT).

Sunday night's game was won by Team LeBron, 170-150, over Team Durant. The festivities were broadcast on both TNT and TBS, and it had a three-hour pregame that included analysis, interviews, a skills challenge and the 3-point shootout. The slam dunk competition was held at halftime. The challenges have always been held on star-studded Saturday nights, but was condensed into one night for COVID protocols before limited fans.

There were also several players, including LeBron james himself, who questioned whether the game should have even been played.

"Obviously, I love our league. I love the game of basketball at the highest level and doing what I love to do," James said prior to the game. "I just think under these circumstances, with what we're going through still with the pandemic and everything with the season, I just thought we could've looked at it a little bit differently. But that's out of my hands. I can only control what I can control."

Going head-to-head with the game on Sunday was the two-hour CBS special of Oprah Winfrey's interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which drew 17.8 million viewers in the same time slot.

The all-star game this year was the most-watched NBA game so far this season, which was previously the Mavericks-Lakers game on Christmas Day. The all-star game also drew better ratings and viewers than the Daytona 500 last month and the Masters last November.