If an NBA team is currently on track for their fourth straight playoff berth while employing the league MVP and no one’s watching, do they make a sound?
That’s the plight of the Denver Nuggets right now, who rank dead last among all NBA teams in local average ratings through mid-February, according to the Sports Business Journal. For perspective, the 7.63 rating of the Golden State Warriors, a team in a much larger market than Denver, is more than 40 times greater than the Nuggets’ 0.19 mark.
Only the Cleveland Cavaliers, another team enjoying a massive uptick in success this season, comes even close to half of the Warriors’ ability to draw eyeballs. Meanwhile, the Nuggets’ rating is reportedly the lowest by any team in the last 15 years.
The Nuggets’ dearth of viewers is a surprise considering the success of the team, simply because they aren’t rebuilding (or tanking). With reigning MVP Nikola Jokic leading them, the Nuggets have been a perennial playoff team, but teams like the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder rank well ahead of Denver, currently sixth in the Western Conference with a 34-25 record.
There is, of course, one massive reason for the decline, and maybe a few smaller ones.
Why isn’t Denver watching the Nuggets?
First and foremost, the biggest reason for the Nuggets’ low ratings is the simple fact that many cable subscribers can’t actually watch the games. Altitude TV, which carries Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche games, is in its third straight year of being blacked out on Comcast and Dish Network.
When DirecTV subscribers are the only people who can actually turn on Nuggets games, that’s going to hurt ratings.
If you’re looking for some other reasons, the Nuggets have been without stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. for much of the season. Murray has been out all season after tearing his ACL late last season, while Porter is still recovering from back surgery. Their return could be near and Jokic has done an admirable job keeping the team competitive in the meantime, but it’s hard to blame fans who don’t want to watch a team clearly not at 100 percent.
As far as non-basketball reasons go, there is another big one: the makeup of Denver itself. No city in the United States has pulled in more millennial transplants than the mile-high city, and that matters because a) transplants don’t typically root for the local team and b) millennials are notoriously averse to paying for cable. They might follow by other means, but those aren’t reflected in the ratings.
Cord cutting has been eating into the NBA’s ratings more than any other major American league due to the young average age of its fans, and that trickles down into the local ratings.
The transplant factor is reflected by the teams near Denver at the bottom of the rankings, as the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic are high in transplants. So are the Warriors, for that matter, but let’s just say Golden State has given locals plenty of reason to tune in.
Put all that together, and, yeah, it’s not hard to see why the Nuggets are struggling to draw eyeballs.