Story at a glance

  • The NBA and several other professional leagues have seen a drop in ratings since sports picked back up after the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Fans have cited the pandemic and recent Black Lives Matter protests as reasons for watching sports less.
  • A recent poll found that a confluence of circumstances are behind the change.

Nearly half of self-described sports fans say they are spending less time watching live sports broadcasts than in the past, according to a recent poll by the Marist Center for Sports Communication. But no one can quite agree on why.


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“Whatever the reason, far fewer people are making sports a priority during a fall in which many can’t gather together in large groups, and where bars and restaurants nationally may have reduced indoor capacity due to the coronavirus,” Jane McManus, director of the Marist Center for Sports Communication, said in a release. 

A Harris poll in September seemed to point the blame at politics, reporting that 38 percent of nearly 2,000 people chose "The league has become too political" when given 10 choices on why they are watching less basketball. Since the Black Lives Matter protests in July, many athletes — especially Black athletes — have spoken out on racism and police violence against Black Americans. 


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When the Marist Poll asked sports fans how this affected their viewership, 70 percent of Republicans said they are less likely to watch live sports, while about 3 in 10 Democrats and Independents said they were tuning in more often. Another 27 percent of Black sports fans and 17 percent of white fans say they are watching live sports broadcasts more as well. So why isn't this evening out viewership?

Well, more than 1 in 3 sports fans surveyed report concerns over the coronavirus, 1 in 5 say coverage of the 2020 elections is a priority right now, while 21 percent say they simply have other options. Another 19 percent say changes to the season and rules have decreased their interest, and yet another 19 percent say they have less free time. So while there isn’t one simple explanation, there is a more general explanation: this is an unprecedented time in American history and culture. 

“There was an assumption that once sports returned, sports fans would leap at the opportunity to watch more,” McManus said. “But what ratings and the results of this poll are telling us, is that fans may have other concerns at the moment.”


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Published on Oct 23, 2020