In other recent NBA action, ESPN drew a 0.7 rating (-26%) and 1.15 million viewers (-17%) for Clippers-Mavericks and a 0.6 (-41%) and 931,000 (-37%) for Bucks-Sixers last Wednesday. TNT the previous night had a 0.6 and 1.03 million for Jazz-Celtics and a 0.6 and 983,000 for Pelicans-Blazers. Preceding the aforementioned Lakers-Warriors game on March 15, ESPN drew a 0.7 (-35%) and 1.13 million (-36%) for Knicks-Nets. Finally, Clippers-Pelicans had a 0.6 (-34%) and 1.01 million (-24%) on ESPN March 14. All comparisons are to 2019.
An extended absence for LeBron James is bad news for the Lakers and the NBA’s television ratings. With James and Anthony Davis both out due to injury, the Lakers’ blowout loss to the Pelicans Tuesday night averaged 920,000 viewers on TNT — down 35% from Rockets-Bucks on the comparable night in 2019 (1.41M) and the least-watched Laker game on ESPN, ABC or TNT since James joined the team in 2018. The previous low was 970,000 for a 2019 Lakers-Jazz game in which James sat out.
Thursday’s Warriors-Clippers NBA regular season game, in which Los Angeles led by as many as 39 points in the third quarter, averaged 1.25 million viewers on TNT — up 34% from Mavericks-Nuggets on the comparable night in 2019 (931K). There were no comparable games last year as the NBA season had been suspended.
In the final games before the All-Star break, TNT averaged 1.06 million for Heat-Pelicans Thursday night — down 31% from Clippers-Rockets last year (1.53M). The previous night, ESPN pulled 1.09 million for Nets-Rockets and 1.32 million for Warriors-Blazers, up 30% and down 10% respectively from last year’s comparable doubleheader (Pacers-Bucks: 839K; Pelicans-Mavericks: 1.47M).
The pandemic and the overall trend of people watching less broadcast and cable TV in general in recent years suggests Sunday’s game likely will not come close to the viewership numbers it used to generate. “I think it’ll be the lowest-rated and least-watched NBA All-Star Game ever,” said Jon Lewis, who’s crunched audience data at Sports Media Watch since 2006. “That’s really the way sports on TV are going. Plus, the players don’t even want to play in it.”
Stefan Bondy: Heard the Knicks crushed the Nets in the TV ratings last night. Also beat them Sunday when facing the lowly Timberwolves and Nets were playing the Clippers.
Nets Daily: Nets two nationally televised games in LA drew more than 3 million viewers: 1.94 million watched the Lakers game Thursday; 1.51 million watched the Clippers Sunday. There's a reason Nets have 20 nationally TV games in second half of season.
Celtics-Pelicans averaged a 1.4 rating and 2.26 million viewers on ABC’s NBA Sunday Showcase last weekend, up 17% in ratings and 14% in viewership from the first Sunday Showcase game last year, which aired on Super Bowl Sunday (Pelicans-Rockets: 1.2, 1.99M), but down 39% and 37% respectively from Celtics-Lakers on the same February weekend last year (2.3, 3.59M).
New Orleans’ comeback win was the top NBA game of a weekend that included the league’s highest profile teams. The previous night, Heat-Lakers drew a 1.3 and 2.20 million on ABC’s NBA Saturday Primetime — up 18% and 29% respectively from the same weekend last year (Sixers-Bucks: 1.1, 1.71M). On ESPN Sunday night, Nets-Clippers drew a 0.9 and 1.51 million.
In other action, Jazz-Clippers drew a 0.75 (-4%) and 1.25 million (+6%) on ESPN last Friday, preceded by Bulls-Sixers at a 0.6 (-14%) and 972,000 (-4%). Shifting to this week, TNT drew 1.03 million for Celtics-Mavericks (-11%) on Tuesday, followed by 1.14 million for Blazers-Nuggets (-49% from last year’s first meeting of LeBron James and Zion Williamson).
Brian Lewis: Last night’s #Nets-#Lakers game on #TNT averaged 1.94 million viewers, which is the most-viewed #NBA game on cable this season outside of the league’s tentpole events (Opening Week, Christmas and MLK Day).
The rise of European NBA players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic has led to significant viewership growth in major markets on the continent this season, league officials said this week. The growth in Europe is being fueled by a 15% increase in NBA League Pass subscriptions internationally, which makes games available to fans in more than 200 countries.
The NBA has always been a top-heavy league and that extends to team popularity. The following is an attempt to quantify that phenomenon. Ratings numbers are courtesy of Showbuzz. 1. Lakers: 1,505,167 (avg. viewership) The NBA’s Cadillac delivers yet again, and why shouldn’t it? You’ve got LeBron James, the league’s biggest brand and they’re defending champs. Of course, they’re going to lead everyone in viewership, and it’s not surprising that the margin is over 100,000 viewers.
2. Warriors: 1,367,250. When Steph Curry is playing, the Warriors are a top public team. They’re behind the Lakers here, but they’re also a far worse squad, with no hope of winning a title. Also, it should be noted that the Warriors played two highly-anticipated ESPN games against the Clippers that occurred concurrently with an especially insane news cycle (look up when those games were). In normal circumstances, those games probably do better by the hundreds of thousands. There’s an argument that all things being equal, Steph’s Warriors are a bigger draw than LeBron’s Lakers. That’s mostly a theoretical claim because, until Klay Thompson returns and some moves are made, all things will remain far from equal.
Last Saturday’s Nets-Warriors game, which marked Nets F Kevin Durant’s return to the Bay Area, averaged a 1.5 rating and 2.56 million viewers on ABC — marking the eighth-largest audience of the season (fourth-largest excluding Christmas). There was no comparable window last year, which coincided with All-Star weekend.
Ratings and viewership paled in comparison to Durant’s previous homecoming — his 2017 return to Oklahoma City as a member of the Warriors averaged a 3.4 and 6.04 million in the same Saturday Primetime window.
In other action, ESPN averaged a 0.8 and 1.27 million for Lakers-Nuggets and a 0.7 and 1.15 million for Blazers-Mavericks Sunday night. It also pulled a 0.8 and 1.26 million for Grizzlies-Lakers and a 0.6 and 1.04 million for Pelicans-Mavericks on Friday. Shifting to this week’s games, TNT drew just 984,000 for Nets-Suns and 943,000 for Pelicans-Grizzlies on Tuesday. Wednesday’s ESPN numbers were not immediately available.
Warriors-Mavericks averaged a 1.25 rating and 2.23 million viewers on ABC’s NBA Saturday Primetime last weekend, down 29% in ratings and 23% in viewership from Lakers-Warriors on the same weekend last year (1.8, 2.88M) and down 26% and 16% respectively from 2019 (Thunder-Rockets: 1.7, 2.67M). The previous night, ESPN posted a 0.8 (+8%) and 1.29 million (+14%) for Celtics-Clippers and a 0.7 (+13%) and 1.13 million (+14%) for Raptors-Nets. Shifting to this week, TNT drew just 893,000 viewers for Celtics-Jazz (-28%) and 891,000 for Rockets-Pelicans (-17%) on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s Clippers-Nets NBA regular season game averaged 1.66 million viewers on TNT, up 32% from the comparable February date last year (Bucks-Pelicans: 1.25M) and up 112% from 2019 (Raptors-Sixers: 782K). The Celtics-Warriors nightcap was actually higher at 1.73 million, up 23% from last year (Spurs-Lakers: 1.40M) and up 129% from ’19 (Heat-Blazers: 755K).
The momentum did not carry into the rest of the week. On Wednesday night, ESPN averaged 984,000 for Suns-Pelicans (-16%) and just 701,000 for Pacers-Bucks (-30%). TNT averaged 1.39 million for Warriors-Mavericks (-18%) and 1.37 million for Nuggets-Lakers (-39%) on Thursday.
Lakers-Celtics averaged a 1.6 rating and 2.74 million viewers on the season premiere of ABC’s NBA Saturday Primetime, up 45% in ratings and 65% in viewership from the same weekend last year (2/1/20 Sixers-Celtics: 1.1, 1.66M), but down 15% and 6% respectively from the first Saturday Primetime game last season, which aired two weeks earlier (1/18/20 Lakers-Rockets: 1.9, 2.92M). Viewership peaked at 3.45 million. The Lakers and Celtics’ meeting on ABC last season — a Sunday afternoon game in mid-February — averaged a 2.3 and 3.59 million.
Brian Lewis: TV numbers are in on #Nets-#Clippers, and they’re good. Tuesday night’ doubleheader – the first #NBA on #TNT Tuesday Night of the year – averaged 1.7 million viewers, up 28% from last season’s corresponding coverage (1.3 million viewers).
Nets Daily: Whoops, there it is! From @Marc Berman “Since his Jan. 16 debut, the Nets on YES Network are outperforming the Knicks on MSG Network in viewership in the New York market, according to industry sources.”
Since his Jan. 16 debut, the Nets on YES Network are outperforming the Knicks on MSG Network in viewership in the New York market, according to industry sources. In their eight games on YES, the Nets are leading the Knicks by an average of 10 percent. The numbers factor in MSG Network and its spillover channel MSG Plus. The Nets, since Harden’s first game, are averaging 122,000 viewers per game to the Knicks’ 111,000 viewers, based on Nielsen ratings, according to sources.
Nets Daily: Nets ratings on @YESNetwork still rising. Wednesday's game vs. Hawks averaged 103,000 viewers. Peaked at 182,000 viewers (10:00 – 10:15 pm ET). Sixth straight YES Nets telecast with an average of more than 100,000 viewers. That's more than double last year's viewership.
Ben Cafardo: ESPN's national telecast of #Sixers vs. #Lakers on Wednesday was the most-watched program of the night across all of television in key M18-34 and M18-49 demos. It's ESPN's most-watched non-XMas Day NBA game this season.
Viewership hit rock bottom last fall, when the 2020 NBA Finals saw a 51% decline from the year before, with Games 1, 2, and 3 ranking as the least-watched Finals games on record. Highlights of this NBA season’s viewership spike: TNT’s Opening Night doubleheader was the most-watched Opening Night since 2017, averaging 2.9 million viewers.
Overall, the league had its most-watched opening week since 2012 with an average of 3.4 million viewers, up 67% from last year’s opening week. TNT’s MLK Day tripleheader averaged 1.73 million viewers, up 32% from last January’s tripleheader.
Vincent Goodwill: Last night’s BKN-CLE game was the most-viewed game in the U.S. and fourth most-viewed game globally on League Pass this season. Viewers were up 115% and watch hours were up 227% vs. the per-game averages for the season.
Kristian Winfield: YES Network says last night’s Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden debut as a trio in Cleveland was the network’s most-viewed telecast in 6 years.
Alex Schiffer: From @YESNetwork: YES’ telecast of last evening’s Nets-Cavs game averaged 159,000 Total Viewers in the New York DMA, the network’s most-viewed Nets telecast in six years (179,000 average Total Viewers for its December 8, 2014 game, also against the Cavs). @NetsOnYES
After viewership declines during its restarted 2019-20 season in the bubble, the NBA has seen some notable increases this season. The NBA drew an average of two million viewers through its first 27 games on TNT, ESPN and ABC, which marked a 34% increase from a comparable number of games last season according to Nielsen Media Research.
The NBA has reported viewership increases from last season on NBA League Pass (46%), minutes viewed on League Pass (18%) and engagement on the league’s social media platforms (201%). TNT’s Martin Luther King Day tripleheader (Suns-Grizzlies, Nets-Bucks, Warriors-Lakers) also netted an average of 1.73 million viewers, a 32% increase from the network’s MLK Day coverage last season. That increase can be partly attributed to the presence of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Nets’ Kevin Durant, both of whom had significant injuries last season. As USA TODAY Sports and others reported last month, the NBA’s television ratings on opening week yielded a 67% percent increase compared to last season, and its Christmas Day games netted a 10% increase in viewership. The NBA started this season on Dec. 22 after starting last season on Oct. 22.
Overall, TNT’s MLK Day tripleheader, which also included the Phoenix Suns vs. Memphis Grizzlies, averaged 1.6 million viewers across TNT and TV Everywhere platforms, up 26% over last year’s coverage. TNT’s live NBA regular season game coverage is averaging 1.7 million viewers, up 21% vs. the same number of games last year (1.4 million viewers through 12 telecasts).
Brian Lewis: YES’ telecast of last evening’s Magic-#Nets game averaged 143,000 viewers in the New York DMA, nearly double #YES’ season-to-date average of 72,000 viewers. This, despite the fact that the telecast went up against #NFL playoff action and the Rangers-Islanders game.
Wednesday’s Nets-Knicks NBA regular season game averaged 1.18 million viewers on ESPN, up 27% from Nets-Sixers on the comparable January date last year (934K), but down 32% from Bucks-Rockets in 2019 (1.73M). The game aired in the hours after news broke of Brooklyn’s trade for James Harden. The Pelicans-Clippers nightcap chipped in 987,000 (-13%).
Going back to last week, ESPN averaged a 0.9 rating and 1.59 million viewers for Clippers-Warriors last Friday night — down 18% in ratings and 11% in viewership from Lakers-Mavericks last year (1.1, 1.79M) but flat and up 14% respectively from 2019 (Thunder-Blazers: 0.9 1.39M). The same matchup two nights earlier pulled a 0.8 (+14%) and 1.33 million (+30%).
Tim Reynolds: A bit of national-game NBA viewing news: Through the first 18 games of the season on ABC, ESPN and TNT viewership is up 42% vs. last year, per Nielsen and the league. That is ⬆️, not ⬇️
Tuesday’s Pelicans-Suns NBA regular season game, in which Phoenix led by as many as 40 points, averaged 1.15 million viewers on TNT — up 9% from the network’s final game of 2019 (12/26/19 Blazers-Jazz: 1.06M). Earlier in the night, the Bucks’ 47-point win over the Heat averaged 837,000 (-29%). Compared to TNT’s third night of coverage last season, which took place in October and faced Thursday Night Football, Bucks-Heat increased 27% and Pelicans-Suns 47% (vs. 10/31/19 Heat-Hawks: 658K and Nuggets-Pelicans: 784K).
The Los Angeles Lakers playing on Christmas Day is a holiday tradition up there with the Detroit Lions losing on Thanksgiving. Even in this pandemic-fouled year that has made a hash of sports scheduling, slightly more than 7 million fans tuned in to watch the defending NBA champions (just a couple months removed from their 17th title) beat the visiting Dallas Mavericks 138-115. The game aired on both ABC and ESPN. That total is down from last year’s 8.76 million, but still a solid number in the context of this year.
NBA viewers watched 81.5 million hours of live games on ABC, ESPN and TNT in the opening week of the season, up 95% from opening week in 2019. In terms of total hours, this season's opening week was the most viewed since 2011, the league said Wednesday. That also was the last time the NBA season opened during the week of Christmas; it was on Dec. 25 that year and Dec. 22 this year.
The NBA season typically opens in October. The start of this season was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, whereas there was a labor dispute in 2011. Games shown on ESPN on Christmas Day -- New Orleans against Miami and the LA Clippers against Denver -- were up 10% in average viewers (2.83 million) over the games shown in comparable windows on Christmas last season.
And the Nets also — maybe for the first time in their history — have a bigger television audience through the season’s first three games. YES Network, which broadcasts the Nets, boldly tweeted out information the Nets are beating the Knicks in viewership. The Nets’ first two games were on national TV (TNT and ABC) with their third game on YES. Through three games, gauging the New York audience, Kevin Durant’s Nets are averaging 340,667 viewers compared to the Knicks’ 146,667 viewers. Each of the three Knicks’ games were on MSG Network. (They only have one game all season on a national network.)
The Nets’ first two games were on national TV (TNT and ABC) with their third game on YES. Through three games, gauging the New York audience, Kevin Durant’s Nets are averaging 340,667 viewers compared to the Knicks’ 146,667 viewers. Each of the three Knicks’ games were on MSG Network. (They only have one game all season on a national network.)
Nets Daily: Putting aside the national ratings, how are the Nets and Knicks doing in the New York market through the first two games? Nets are averaging 436,000 total viewers per game in the New York market; Knicks are averaging 157,500 total viewers. (Oh, the times, they are a-changin')
Wednesday’s Bucks-Celtics NBA regular season game averaged a Nielsen-estimated 2.00 million viewers on TNT, up 18% from Celtics/Sixers on the second night of last season (1.70M) and up 28% from 2018 (Pelicans-Rockets: 1.56M). Those games aired on ESPN. Later in the night, Mavericks-Suns averaged 1.22 million on ESPN — down 10% from last year (Nuggets-Blazers: 1.35M) but up 1% from the same matchup in 2018 (Mavericks-Suns: 1.21M). Through two nights, the NBA season is averaging 2.28 million viewers on TNT and ESPN — up 3% from last year (2.21M), up 5% from 2018 (2.16M), and the highest in three years (2017: 3.49M).
Adam Silver: Now, some people might suggest that the words Black Lives Matter are causing massive amounts of people to tune out the NBA. There’s absolutely no data to support that. And in fact, as I said, there’s no doubt there are some people—and whether or not they were truly our fans to begin with is unclear—who have become further engaged with the league because they believe in our players and they believe in the positions they’ve taken, even if they don’t agree with everything they say. They respect their right to speak out on issues that are important to them.
The NBA Draft was just the latest sporting event to take a hit in the ratings. Wednesday’s NBA Draft averaged 2.13 million viewers across ESPN and ESPNU, down 31% from both last year (3.09M) and 2018 (3.07M) and the smallest audience for the event since at least 2007. Figures do not include the 82,000 who watched coverage on NBA TV.
The first round of the draft averaged 2.65 million — ESPN’s top NBA audience in the month of November since 2018 — and ranked second for the night in adults 18-49 and 18-34 behind “The Masked Singer” on FOX. The steep decline and multi-year low for the NBA Draft is in keeping with the broader trend facing the sports media industry. The NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup Final, final rounds of the Masters and U.S. Open — and more — have hit historic lows since the wave of cancellations and postponements in March.
If they are able to return to that status as soon as next season, how much do you think that’ll help the league from a bigger-picture perspective in terms of TV ratings and that sort of thing? “That’s hard to predict. As a league, we recognize that the restart was tough in some ways. We don’t read too much into the ratings from this past summer. We were in a different time of year, different competition. There was obviously enormous and intense interest in election coverage. The goal of the league is to have 30 teams that all, when well-managed, are in a position to compete for championships.
League officials have publicly downplayed concerns about the recent ratings decline, pointing to the N.B.A.’s mammoth social media following as a source of optimism about its broader appeal. Vocal critics — with little to no evidence — increasingly attribute the plunge to a leaguewide embrace of social justice causes, but the dip has had an impact even if there is no clear-cut explanation. Long-held fears among N.B.A. traditionalists that the viewing audience will inevitably shrink after July appear to have been validated.
Why 72 games? I can assure you it was not just some random number pulled out of the sky. Seventy-two is an oddly specific number as well, which makes one presume the NBA did a lot of work to arrive at that figure. From a TV perspective, 72 games are just enough to satisfy the regional sports network contracts that provide local TV revenue for each team (most specify either 65 or 70 games), but still short enough to get the season banged out between Christmas and the beginning of May.
The second reason for the shift in attitudes flows out of the first: If next season is going to be financially difficult too, better to do it sooner rather than later and get back on a traditional schedule for the next season. Just rip the bandaid off. The idea is to have the 2021-22 season be the “return to normal” in the sense of a regular timeline for the season and full buildings. One thing the NBA came away with from the bubble is that the league does not want to play into the fall and go up against the NFL and college football again. Ratings were way down for the NBA Finals. While there were a lot of factors in that — the nation focused on an intense presidential and national election, more competing sports, the coronavirus shifting people’s priorities — league officials came out of it wanting to get back to a more traditional October-to-June schedule with the draft in late June and free agency in July.
According to industry sources, it has become an agonizing issue for Silver after the NBA Finals ratings’ collapse. Silver has talked about less messaging on jerseys and the court next season. One source said: “It’s a balancing act for Adam. When you’re balancing, sometimes you fall.’’
The NBA Finals ended with another low rating, but nonetheless put up a stronger fight against Sunday Night Football than the previous week. Sunday’s clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals (Lakers-Heat) averaged a 4.2 rating and 8.29 million viewers on ABC, marking the lowest rated and least-watched Finals clincher on record. Ratings fell 61% and viewership 56% from last year’s Game 6, a close game that took place in June and did not face NFL competition (Raptors-Warriors: 10.7, 18.76M).
While the coverage might make one believe that the NBA suffered a sharper ratings drop than any other league, the numbers tell a different story. The 2020 NBA Playoffs averaged 3.04 million viewers across ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV (83 telecasts), down 37% from last year, when the postseason took place as scheduled in April, May and June (4.83M). The 37 percent decline is in line with the broader trend facing the sports industry since the wave of cancellations and postponements in March. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs declined an almost identical 38% across NBC’s TV and digital platforms (from 1.53M to 953K) and the MLB Division Series sank 40% on TBS, FS1 and MLB Network (from 3.04M to 1.82M).
The six-game Lakers-Heat NBA Finals averaged 7.48 million viewers, down 49% from last year and easily the least-watched Finals on record. The previous low was 9.29 million for Spurs-Cavaliers in 2007. [Related: NBA Finals ratings improve, but still low, at series end.]
Like the playoffs as a whole, the steep drop for the Finals is in line with the industry-wide trend. Even after losing half of its year-ago audience, the Finals held up better than the Stanley Cup Final (-61%) or the final round of golf’s U.S. Open (-56%), which were similarly shifted from June to late summer.
However, people flocking to cable news might be the biggest reason based on these numbers via AP. • Fox News averaged of 4.42 million last week–up 63%. • MSNBC averaged 2.75 million last week–up 38% • CNN averaged 2.59 million last week–up 172%. The takeaway is simple: Without an election year in 2021 and with (hopefully) the pandemic becoming a thing of the past, most sports will enjoy a viewership increase in 2021.
Yes, the NBA Finals are down 48 percent from last year, but there are a number of contributing factors. The ratings purge isn’t an isolated affair. A number of observers have suggested that players speaking out on racial inequality during news conferences and kneeling for the national anthem, and the social justice messages on the back of the jerseys during the NBA’s restart have negatively affected the league’s brand and ratings. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has even been blamed for the drop in viewership because of his willingness to speak freely.
But the MLB playoffs (down 39 percent), the NFL (down 14 percent), the NHL playoffs (down 25 percent) and the Stanley Cup Finals (down 61 percent) are all experiencing ratings drops. These dips are seemingly overlooked because it doesn’t fit the narrative that a league predominantly composed of Black men raising concerns over the justice system and condemning systemic racism is bad for business.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the racial composition of the NBA’s audience for this year’s playoffs is the same as last year’s. The audience for the 2020 NBA Finals through the first four games is 45 percent white and 55 percent non-white; it was 46 percent white, 54 percent non-white in 2019. This suggests that the people claiming to be turning off their televisions because of the social justice messaging aren’t the ones tuning in regularly in the first place.
There are, however, numerous contributing factors as to why all major sports leagues are seeing a ratings drop. In unprecedented circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL were playing at the same time, giving fans a multitude of options. The NBA restart was played in the summer, which doesn’t allow for a true ratings comparison of prior years because the league typically concludes in June. And it’s an intense election year in which the president was hospitalized with the coronavirus, which dominated the news cycle.
It’s a clean, four-game ratings sweep for the NBA Finals. While Game 4’s ratings for Lakers-Heat showed an uptick from the prior three games, viewership on ABC has now set an historic low as the four least-watched finals games in recorded history.
Game 4 saw the audience rise to 7.54 million viewers, which was ahead of Game’s 3’s 5.94 million viewers. The Game 3 number set a new low since finals ratings were recorded in 1984, according to Sports Media Watch.
Perhaps sparked by the Heat’s upset in Game 3, Game 4 was the most-watched of the series, which the Lakers now lead 3-1. Game 5 is Friday. The first three games each set futility records. There were a total of 6.6 million viewers for Game 2, which broke the Game 1 record low of 7.4 million. ESPN/ABC did not respond to a request for comment.
According to sources, commissioner Adam Silver still is surprised at the low audience with LeBron James chasing his fourth title at age 35. Silver is aiming for next year’s NBA Finals to not compete in the crowded sports month of October.
In the latest TV ratings, ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night averaged 5.3 million total viewers and a 1.9 demo rating, up sharply from Game 3‘s fast nationals (4 mil/1.5) to mark the championship series’ best preliminary numbers since its Sept. 30 tipoff. NBC’s Weakest Link (4.7 mil/0.8) dropped from last week’s pre-debate premiere yet still led Tuesday’s non-NBA fare in both measures. Leading out of that, Ellen’s Game of Games returned to 3.5 mil/0.6, while Transplant (3.1 mil/0.4) dipped from its previous outing.
he result? This year’s NBA Finals are competing for eyeballs with the NFL, college football, and MLB playoffs. ABC’s Game 3 coverage went up against NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” with predictable results. “Going up head-to-head with the NFL and MLB postseason is a first — and the competition has had a negative effect on audience delivery,” Adgate said.
The NBA has also been “unlucky” when it comes to current events, Pucci added. “With the president getting the coronavirus, a lot of people have had their minds on that. They got unlucky with that particular news,” he said.
As one source put, it might not have been realistic for ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports’ TNT to expect normal NBA playoff numbers during an abnormal time. “We’re tipping off playoff games at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. This schedule was not made for ratings; it was built for health and safety,” he said.
Nobody anticipated good ratings for a fanless, football season NBA Finals, but this year’s series is thus far underperforming the lowest expectations. Sunday’s Lakers-Heat NBA Finals Game 3 averaged a 3.1 rating and 5.94 million viewers, marking the lowest rated and least-watched NBA Finals game on record. The previous low was set two nights earlier by Game 2, which averaged a 3.6 and 6.61 million. The low before that was set by last Wednesday’s Game 1, which as previously reported drew a 4.1 and 7.41 million.
Prior to this year, the record-lows were a 5.2 and 8.06 million for Nets-Spurs Game 2 in 2003. [Related: NBA Finals ratings history] Miami’s Game 3 win marked the first NBA Finals game to ever air on an NFL Sunday. It was dominated by NBC’s Sunday Night Football (Eagles-49ers), which won the head-to-head by 171% in ratings (8.4 to 3.1) and 180% in viewership (15.08 to 5.94M). In the key young adult demographics, SNF won by 105% in adults 18-49 (4.5 to 2.2) and a comparably modest 65% in adults 18-34 (3.4 to 2.0).
After a regular season and playoffs marked by declines, the NBA Finals opened with its worst-ever performance in the ratings. Wednesday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals (Heat-Lakers) averaged a 4.1 rating and 7.41 million viewers on ABC, comfortably the lowest rated and least-watched NBA Finals game on record (dates back to 1988). The previous lows were a 5.2 and 8.06 million for Nets-Spurs Game 2 in 2003. [Related: NBA Finals ratings history.]
As goes without saying, it was also the least-watched Finals opener on record. The previous low was 9.21 million for Cavaliers-Spurs in 2007. The Lakers’ easy win, in which they led by as many as 32, sank 48% in ratings and 45% in viewership from Warriors-Raptors last year (7.9, 13.38M) and 59% and 58% respectively from Cavaliers-Warriors in 2018 (10.0, 17.67M), which aired as scheduled in late May.
Let’s start with the headline: All together, East and West, these were two of the least-watched conference finals series ever, despite featuring the league’s most famous player (LeBron James) on the league’s most famous franchise (the Lakers). It happened despite Nielsen using “Out of Home” viewership for the first time ever at the start of September, which likely goosed NBA numbers between seven and 12 percent. Note: Don’t expect sports leagues to tell you about OOH viewership ratings inflation when they all boast about rising ratings next season.
The declines are steep and the lows historic, but all is not lost as the NBA enters the final chapter of its protracted season. The NBA conference finals averaged approximately 4.18 million viewers across ESPN and TNT, down 35% from last year (6.42M) and the smallest audience for the round since at least 2007. The 11 games played this year rank among the 14 least-watched conference final games since 2007, joining Raptors-Bucks Game 2 last year (4.39M) and Games 1 and 2 of Spurs-Grizzlies in 2013 (4.85 and 4.62M).
If low by conference final standards, the games held up well by most others. Saturday’s clinching Nuggets-Lakers Game 5 was the weekend’s highest rated and most-watched non-NFL sporting event with a 2.4 and 4.79 million viewers on TNT, easily winning a crowded head-to-head against college football (Florida State-Miami: 1.6, 2.95M; Alabama-Missouri: 1.15, 2.09M) and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final (1.5, 2.71M).
Heat-Celtics Game 5 the previous night averaged a 2.35 and 4.37 million on ESPN, down 38% and 37% respectively from last year (Raptors-Bucks: 3.8, 6.23M), but still the night’s top television program on any network in viewership and the key adult demographics. As one would expect, the games were the two least-watched conference final Game 5s since 2007 (Jazz-Spurs: 3.97M). Still, they helped the NBA top the charts in adults 18-49 for the 25th and 26th time in 35 nights this postseason. The number of nightly wins rises to 30 among men 18-49.
Barry Jackson: If Lakers dispatch Denver tonight, the current NBA sentiment (not certain but sentiment) would be to schedule potential Heat-Celtics Game 7 on Wednesday on ABC to avoid presidential debate Tuesday. If Nuggets win tonight, Game 7 of Heat - if needed - would be Tuesday on ESPN.
Ben Cafardo: ESPN's coverage of @NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 - #Celtics vs #Heat - was the most-watched program across all of TV for Sat, Sept 19 (Nielsen). TelevisionMobile phone It generated 3,810,000 viewers, peaking w/4,316,000 viewers. Heavy check markAlso the most-watched program in the male/adult demos.
Even a buzzer-beating Laker win could not keep NBA ratings afloat opposite Sunday Night Football. Airing directly opposite NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference Finals (Nuggets-Lakers) averaged a 1.75 rating and 3.17 million viewers on TNT — marking the league’s smallest conference final audience since Pistons-Nets Game 4 on ESPN in 2003 (2.72M). No other conference final game since at least 2001 has averaged fewer viewers.
Both games declined considerably from last year, with Game 2 down 63% in ratings and 60% in viewership from Blazers-Warriors on a Thursday night in May last year (4.7, 7.88M). Friday’s drop was not as severe, but ratings still fell 42% and viewership a third from last year’s Tuesday night opener (4.5, 7.32M).
As for the Eastern Conference Finals, Saturday’s Celtics-Heat Game 3 averaged a 2.0 and 3.81 million — down 46% in ratings and 38% in viewership from Bucks-Raptors on a Sunday night in May last year (3.7, 6.16M).
Tuesday’s Nuggets-Clippers second round NBA playoff Game 7 averaged 5.23 million viewers on ESPN, marking the largest audience of the playoffs on cable and the second-largest across all networks. ABC averaged 5.43 million for Rockets-Lakers Game 2 over Labor Day weekend. Denver’s upset win delivered cable’s third-largest live sports audience since the NFL Draft in April, behind only the previous night’s NFL doubleheader on ESPN (Steelers-Giants: 10.76M; Titans-Broncos: 7.70M). Outside of the NFL, it was the most-watched live sporting event on cable since the NBA All-Star Game in February (7.23M).
Earlier Tuesday, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals (Heat-Celtics) averaged 4.01 million, marking the least-watched conference final game since 2007 (Jazz-Spurs Game 5: 3.97M). The 6:30 PM ET start time — the earliest for any weekday conference final game in recent memory — provides an obvious caveat.
Viewership fell 27% from Game 1 of last year’s East Finals on TNT, which began two hours later (Raptors-Bucks: 5.49M), and 44% from Game 1 in 2018 — a Sunday afternoon game on broadcast television (Cavaliers-Celtics: 7.22M).
Going back to the weekend, ESPN averaged a 1.9 rating and 3.72 million viewers for Rockets-Lakers Game 5 on Saturday night and a mere 0.8 and 1.30 million for Clippers-Nuggets Game 6 on Sunday afternoon. The latter ranks as the least-watched second round playoff game in at least a decade, with the caveat that it aired opposite NFL games.
June 27, 2022 | 1:04 pm EDT Update
Jake Fischer: Sources with knowledge of the situation have increasingly believed Kyrie Irving’s willingness to opt out of Brooklyn, sign the $6M taxpayer midlevel with the Lakers, where Irving can re-sign long-term in 2023. More on @getcallin with @BigWos at 7:30ET: https://t.co/Qyn7Obfi2P
JD Shaw: Four-year NBA veteran Sindarius Thornwell has committed to play summer league with the Chicago Bulls, league source tells @HoopsRumors. Thornwell holds 160 games of experience, making past stops with the Clippers, Pelicans and Magic.
JD Shaw: The Philadelphia 76ers are adding Cassius Winston and Justin Smith to their summer league roster, sources tell @HoopsRumors. Winston, 24, has spent time with the Wizards on a two-way contract, while Smith, 23, briefly played for the Raptors’ G League affiliate this past season.
Eric Koreen: Dillon Brooks is the lone player on Canada Basketball’s original list of 14 commits with an unexcused absence. Nick Nurse will talk to him in days to come, but interpretation early on is he will now need to earn a spot on future teams rather than be guaranteed one.
Josh Lewenberg: Jamal Murray in attendance for Day 1 of Canada’s training camp this week. He’s not expected to participate in practices as he continues his recovery from ACL injury.
June 27, 2022 | 12:29 pm EDT Update
Adrian Wojnarowski: ESPN Sources: Outside of the Lakers, there are currently no known teams planning pursuit of sign-and-trades for Nets G Kyrie Irving. No sign-and-trades can be formally discussed until after 6 PM on Thursday. Brooklyn isn’t believed to have interest in available Lakers packages.