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Analysis: How Predictability Hurts Postseason Sports TV

Postseason Trends
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

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Postseason time is fast approaching for the NBA and NHL.

The most exciting time of year for sports fans has seen TV audiences decline in recent years, although not to the extent that awards shows have fallen.

Variety Intelligence Platform conducted a survey with the Maru Group that found younger fans are more likely to believe league playoffs drag on forever and agree that the first games in a postseason series are not worth watching.

VIP+ has built upon that, with exclusive analysis unveiled during its webinar on May 11, “The Changing Face of Sports Viewership,” which will also dive further into factors behind the decline in finals viewership.

Analysis of the last 10 years of postseason results across the five major professional leagues in the U.S. (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL and NHL) suggests the NBA is the least competitive — and most predictable — postseason tournament. The higher seed wins a postseason series three out of four times in the NBA, a much greater percentage than the 3-in-5 odds found in other leagues.

While not the only factor behind the decline in finals viewing — others include cord-cutting, streaming via MVPD or VMVPD app and the impact of a lack of crowds during the pandemic on the TV-viewing experience — the overall predictability of the higher seed winning is a likely factor in waning interest. Sports, by nature, are designed to be competitive.

Considering this, VIP+ analyzed data across postseason tournaments going back to 1990, creating a rolling five-year average in order to trend whether postseasons have become more or less predictable for viewers.

VIP+’s analysis suggests the NBA postseason has always been highly uncompetitive, with the best teams typically always winning. In our subscriber report “Sports’ New TV Formula,” we touched upon how younger fans were growing disconnected with watching regular season games.

It’s extremely likely the postseason trend extends to the regular season, which would explain why younger fans are shying away from traditional engagement.

The NHL is also seeing its postseason begin in May. VIP+’s analysis shows that, while the league is more competitive than the high predictability scores seen in the mid-2000s, the last four postseasons have seen higher-seeded teams winning more often each year.

VIP+ will be unveiling the postseason predictability trends for the NFL, MLB and MLS in the “Changing Face of Sports Viewership” webinar. Other topics covered with special guest Tony Khan include the increasing desire to watch highlights, trends in postseason viewership, the overall shift in entertainment among younger viewers and the constant increases in sports rights.