In general, the NBA has very high attendance. In the 2018-19 season, game telecasts such as ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBATV were down five percent from the 2017-18 season, which was the best average viewers per game since the 2013-14 season.
The NBA gets the majority of its viewers from people in the United States, but there is also an international presence. In the past years, the NBA has made great strides in opening up new markets.
The NBA has held games in London, China, and India. NBA programming during the 2017-18 season reached more than 1 billion unique viewers, and more than 35 percent of visitors to NBA.com come from fans outside North America.
Recently, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a message supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters to “fight for freedom” and “stand with Hong Kong,” which intensified the conflicts between the United States and China trade war that has been going on for months.
The tweet happened to be sent right before the Brooklyn Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers and a group of league officials, led by Commissioner Adam Silver, headed to China for the league’s annual exhibition series there. Because of the tweet, the Rockets could lose around $25 million in sponsorship losses this season.
Lakers superstar Lebron James decided to publicly speak on the issue. He said, “I think when we talk about the political side, I think it’s a very delicate situation. A very sensitive situation. I just felt like it was something that not only myself or my teammates or the organization had enough information to talk about it at that point in time. And we still feel the same way” James said in response to Morey’s tweet.
Morey has since issued a statement saying that he did not intend to offend anyone, while James Harden also apologized. As the upcoming season has started, it will be interesting how this conflict between the NBA and China will impact the viewership of NBA games in China.