NBA social media has surpassed the viewership of the three other major American sports leagues combined, but how?

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May 28, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; A view of the fans and the arena and the stands during the national anthem before the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the LA Clippers in game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This season, the NBA has reached almost 9 billion lifetime views on YouTube. The league has also seen record-high viewership during this year’s playoffs. This is no coincidence, as the league has focused on expanding its reach through social media and TV deals. In the current post-season alone, the NBA’s Instagram account amassed more than 1.1 billion views. This was the second-most across the entire platform. So, how is the NBA using social media to expand its reach, and how does it compare to other major American sports leagues?

Adapting to the audience

Sep 27, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis is recorded on a reporters mobile phone as Davis answers a question during the Los Angeles Lakers media day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, CA. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has focused on making its content more accessible through social media. Highlights are promptly posted across various platforms to ensure that people are connected to the sport, even if they do not watch the games. The NBA is also more lenient in the way that its content is distributed. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

“It is completely beyond our hands, but at the same time, we can help facilitate it.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they’re still going to want to eat meals — which are our games. There is no substitute for the live game experience… We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings.

NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver

Leagues like the MLB, NHL, and NFL have been much more strict with content distribution. The NFL, in particular, had attempted to implement a strict social media policy in 2016. The league attempted to maximize monetization as they restricted NFL teams and third-party pages from posting in-game highlights. However, since then, these leagues have relaxed their policies to mimic the growth the NBA has seen on social media.

In terms of TV ratings, the NBA has seen a 39% increase in Playoffs compared to 2020. The return of fans within arenas may have been a factor as they add to the weight and excitement of Playoff games. The NBA continues to expand in its popularity across the globe. The league’s outlook on social media has been revolutionary not only for basketball but all sports.

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