TV Sports And Cognitive Dissonance…

About 5 years ago, NFL TV ratings were down significantly, and NBA TV ratings were on an uptick.  That was also a time when you could not go more than a week without reading a gloom-and-doom themed column about CTE and how – maybe – there would be no football players available at some point in the future for the NFL to use and abuse.  [Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be football players.]  Ignoring the absolute numbers and only looking at the “trends” and then extrapolating them, there were more than a few pundits who proclaimed that the NBA would soon be on an equal footing with the NFL.

Well, let me present you with some data from 2021/2022:

  • The NBA saw a 19% growth in its average TV audience in the regular season.  The average NBA game had an audience of 1.6M and there was a significant growth in the number of women watching NBA games this year.  According to one report I read, women make up one-third of the NBA TV viewership.
  • Sounds good … and yet …
  • The average NFL audience in the 2021 regular season grew ever so slightly and the average TV audience for an NFL regular season game was 16.1M.  Yes, the average NFL audience was a factor of 10 greater than the average NBA audience.

Notwithstanding the significant NBA growth and the meager increase for the NFL in terms of average TV audiences, the NBA has a lot of growing to do to be considered even a minor “threat” to the NFL.  And at the end of this year, we will get a direct head-to-head comparison.

  • Christmas Day has belonged to the NBA for years.  They televise games from noon to midnight; even though the NBA regular season begins before Thanksgiving, Christmas Day is when the NBA announces itself and puts itself out there.
  • In the past, the NFL has tended to avoid playing a full schedule on Christmas Day.  Not so in 2022, according to reports, the NFL regular season schedule for 2022 will have an NFL triple header on Christmas Day.

Looking ahead, Christmas falls on a Sunday this year.  In the past, when Christmas fell on a Sunday, the NFL would play most of its games on Christmas Eve and play only a single game – or possibly two games in the afternoon – on Christmas.  Supposedly, the schedule for this week will be to play 12 games on Saturday afternoon, 1 game in prime time on Saturday night and the 3 remaining games on Sunday making the TV schedule for Christmas Day look very much like the one for Thanksgiving Day.

And that will put the NFL triple-header in direct opposition to the NBA extravaganza.  I am pretty sure that the NFL games will dominate the ratings that day.  Just one data point to explain my level of confidence here:

  • In 2021, on Thanksgiving Day, the Raiders/Cowboys game in the late afternoon time slot had a TV audience that averaged 38.3 million viewers over the course of the game.

[Aside:  I predict that the NFL Draft later this week will draw a TV audience that is greater than the average NBA game from last season (1.6 million viewers) by at least a factor of 3.  We shall see…]

There is another “calendar twist” this year about which I have yet to see any reporting.  When Christmas falls on a Sunday, so does New Year’s Day.  If I have counted correctly, that would be Week 17 of the upcoming NFL season meaning there could be several games with playoff importance on the same day that college football plays its New Year’s Day bowl games.  Now that would be the definition of your “Football Extravaganza”…

There is another NBA “story” out there that begs comment.  Kyrie Irving proclaimed that he would re-sign with the Nets – – presumably meaning a contract extension since he has an option year left on his current contract – – to stay with the team and help manage it along with Kevin Durant, the team GM and the team owner.  Please note three things:

  1. Irving “managed” this year’s team by sitting out most of the games and then by providing three listless performances in the four-game sweep that eliminated the Nets from the playoffs.
  2. Several years ago, Irving told the Celtics he would re-sign with them and stay with the team for the long term – – if the team would have him back was how he put it.  Less than a year after signing that new contract with Boston, he finagled his way out of town to join the Nets.
  3. Irving’s statement of team management included four people – – himself, Durant, the GM and the owner – – but conspicuously avoided having a head coach or any coach in the management group.

Kyrie Irving is a great basketball player when he puts his mind to it; historically, his mind has a tendency to wander.  Look back on Irving’s actions/decisions over the past several years and then try to square all of them with this statement that he made about wanting to be with the Nets and part of its management:

“You know, sometimes I feel like the noise on the external world or outside noise can seep in, and, you know, I’m not the type of person to allow that to happen. So as we build together as a squad, I just think we need to be tougher mentally and just more honest about what we want to accomplish and just stick to the goal, stick to the mission.”

I have exactly no credentials in psychology, but the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance is this:

“The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”

Finally, having looked at calendar holidays earlier on and having just used a dictionary definition, let me close with this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

July Fourth:  An excuse to get drunk, light things on fire, and perhaps even lose one or more of the digits on your hands, all the while knowing you can blame it on loving your country.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “TV Sports And Cognitive Dissonance…”

  1. Your comment about NFL games vs Bowl games on a Sunday got me thinking. I thought I remembered that the Rose Bowl has a “never on Sunday” policy. That prompted me to do a little Googling about that, which led me to find this:

    If New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, the traditional New Year’s Day games are played on January 2 in deference to the National Football League’s week 17 games.

    Source is here:

    I agree with everything else you say about NFL vs NBA ratings and popularity.

    1. Daryl:

      Welcome aboard.

      If I were a TV exec who had the telecast rights to one or more of the New Year’s Day Bowl Games, I would very much prefer for those games to be held on Jan 2 instead of going head-to-head against late season NFL games. Thanks for the additional info.

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