National Basketball Association Nielsen ratings

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The National Basketball Association Nielsen ratings have risen and fallen over the decades. The National Basketball Association achieved a rapid rise and fall in television ratings from the 1997-98 season, when ratings for the NBA Finals achieved a record high, to the 2002-03 season, when ratings for the NBA Finals hit a record low. Blame for this rise and fall has been pinned on the destructive NBA lockout which occurred right after the 1998 season. The lockout wiped out thirty-two games of the 1998-99 season and caused fan apathy. Other blame has been put on the retirement of Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, also on backlash against the "hip-hop" culture of the league, and as well as heavy competition from prime time programming such as American Idol, the CSI shows, and Dancing With The Stars.

The NBA's regular-season ratings average is on par with Major League Baseball's.[citation needed] Ratings for the NBA Finals outdraw other high-profile sporting events that occur during the same month, such as golf's U.S. Open and hockey's Stanley Cup Finals.[citation needed]

Since 2007, NBA ratings have steadily risen, thanks to the resurgence of nationally recognized NBA teams, their star power, and their annual presence in the NBA Finals. Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals had the best rating for a basketball game in the contemporary NBA on ABC era, and the 2011 Finals held steady in the ratings department as well. Both series drew over a 10 rating, beating the World Series in consecutive years for the first time ever.[citation needed] In the 2010s, only one NBA final dipped below an average 10 rating (2014, which involved the ratings-challenged San Antonio Spurs in a five-game series), and the 2015 NBA Finals garnered the highest ratings of the ABC era.

In all, despite declining TV ratings in the early 2000s (decade) and moderate ratings after, the NBA's television audience is often younger, and thus very attractive to advertisers.

Regular-season ratings on network TV
Network Season Rating
NBC 1996 5.0
NBC 1997 4.7
NBC 1998 4.6
NBC 1999 4.3
NBC 2000 3.3
NBC 2001 3.0
NBC 2002 2.9
ABC 2003 2.6
ABC 2004 2.4
ABC 2005 2.3
ABC 2006 2.2
ABC 2007 2.0
ABC 2008 2.2
ABC 2009 2.3
ABC 2010 2.3
ABC 2011 3.0
ABC 2012 3.3
ABC 2013 2.9
ABC 2014 2.3
ABC 2015 2.2

CBS (1973–1990)[edit]

Main article: NBA on CBS

From 1978–81, no NBA Finals on CBS achieved even a 10 average rating. The ratings were so low that CBS aired NBA Finals games in 1980 and 1981 on tape delay. The 1981 NBA Finals were the then-lowest Nielsen ratings in NBA history.

1980s: Lakers–Celtics rivalry[edit]

Highest-Rated Games (1980s)
Game Year/Event Teams Rating
Game 7 1988 NBA Finals Lakers—Pistons 21.2
Game 7 1984 NBA Finals Celtics—Lakers 19.3
Game 4 1987 NBA Finals Lakers—Celtics 18.9
Game 5 1987 NBA Finals Lakers—Celtics 18.9

During CBS' tenure as NBA over-the-air carrier, the NBA experienced its first resurgence, under the leadership of Los Angeles Lakers guard Magic Johnson and rival Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird. Bird and Magic led the NBA to unprecedented popularity and much higher ratings with the arrival of the two stars, and the re-creation of the previously-fiery Celtics–Lakers rivalry. Once the Celtics–Lakers rivalry heated up, ratings went up dramatically. CBS increased its commitment to the NBA, while America warmed up to the league nationally for the first time. In 1987, the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics hit a then-record rating of 15.9. In 1988, CBS achieved its only 20+ rating for an individual NBA game when the network got a 21.2 rating for Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons would be in the next two NBA Finals, including a sweep the next year, and the ratings were a 12.3 in 1990. The 1990 NBA Finals was CBS' last, after nearly two decades televising the NBA. While the network broadcast every Bird-Magic Finals, it never broadcast any Final involving Michael Jordan, who, starting the year after CBS ended involvement with the league, would dominate the NBA in a way that neither Bird or Magic had. In 1990, the final year of the CBS deal, the regular season rating stood at a 5.2. (Each rating point represents 931,000 households.)[2]

NBC (1991–2002)[edit]

Main article: NBA on NBC

1990s: The Jordan era and record highs[edit]

NBA Finals average Nielsen ratings since 1976
Net. Year Series Rating
CBS 1976 Celtics 4, Suns 2 11.5
CBS 1977 Trail Blazers 4, 76ers 2 12.7
CBS 1978 Bullets 4, Supersonics 3 9.9
CBS 1979 Supersonics 4, Bullets 1 7.2
CBS 1980 Lakers 4, 76ers 2 8.0
CBS 1981 Celtics 4, Rockets 2 6.7
CBS 1982 Lakers 4, 76ers 2 13.0
CBS 1983 76ers 4, Lakers 0 12.3
CBS 1984 Celtics 4, Lakers 3 12.3
CBS 1985 Lakers 4, Celtics 2 13.7
CBS 1986 Celtics 4, Rockets 2 14.1
CBS 1987 Lakers 4, Celtics 2 15.9
CBS 1988 Lakers 4, Pistons 3 15.4
CBS 1989 Pistons 4, Lakers 0 15.1
CBS 1990 Pistons 4, Trail Blazers 1 12.3
NBC 1991 Bulls 4, Lakers 1 15.8
NBC 1992 Bulls 4, Trail Blazers 2 14.2
NBC 1993 Bulls 4, Suns 2 17.9
NBC 1994 Rockets 4, Knicks 3 12.4
NBC 1995 Rockets 4, Magic 0 13.9
NBC 1996 Bulls 4, Supersonics 2 16.7
NBC 1997 Bulls 4, Utah Jazz 2 16.8
NBC 1998 Bulls 4, Utah Jazz 2 18.7
NBC 1999 Spurs 4, Knicks 1 11.3
NBC 2000 Lakers 4, Pacers 2 11.6
NBC 2001 Lakers 4, 76ers 1 12.1
NBC 2002 Lakers 4, Nets 0 10.2
ABC 2003 Spurs 4, Nets 2 6.5
ABC 2004 Pistons 4, Lakers 1 11.5
ABC 2005 Spurs 4, Pistons 3 8.2
ABC 2006 Heat 4, Mavericks 2 8.5
ABC 2007 Spurs 4, Cavaliers 0 6.2
ABC 2008 Celtics 4, Lakers 2 9.3
ABC 2009 Lakers 4, Magic 1 8.4
ABC 2010 Lakers 4, Celtics 3 10.6
ABC 2011 Mavericks 4, Heat 2 10.2
ABC 2012 Heat 4, Thunder 1 10.1
ABC 2013 Heat 4, Spurs 3 10.4
ABC 2014 Spurs 4, Heat 1 9.3
ABC 2015 Warriors 4, Cavaliers 2 11.6

The 1990 NBA Finals, which registered a 12.3 rating, was the last Finals CBS aired. Under NBC for the first time in 1991, The Finals ratings improved, as Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls finally overcame Isiah Thomas and the "Bad Boys" Pistons, who eliminated them the two prior postseasons. Jordan and the Bulls played Magic Johnson and the Lakers, a team making what was to be their last appearance in the NBA Finals for the next nine years. The hype over Magic Johnson vs Michael Jordan was robust, and the ratings were the highest since 1987, a year in which the Celtics and Lakers played for the final time. The next year, Jordan's Bulls again made the Finals to play against the Portland Trail Blazers, a small-market team with few stars, and the ratings fell to 14.2. In 1993, however, the six-game series between the Bulls and Charles Barkley's Phoenix Suns averaged a 17.9 rating, a mark that eclipsed the previous record of 15.9. This 17.9 rating also beat the 17.3 rating for that year's MLB World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays; it was the first time that any NBA Finals had accomplished this feat. (However, when Canadian viewership is taken into account it's likely the baseball Fall Classic still came out on top)[citation needed] The 1993 Finals were Jordan's last before his first retirement.

The Houston Rockets took the 1994 and 1995 titles, beating the New York Knicks in 7 games in 1994 and the Orlando Magic in 4 games in 1995 (The Orlando Magic even defeated the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 6 games in the playoffs, though Jordan had returned mid-season). The ratings for the 1994 and 1995 Finals decreased but remained above-average. The 1995 Finals even came within 0.3 ratings points of the 1992 Finals and featured young superstar Shaquille O'Neal.

After these two seasons, the Jordan-led Bulls regained their standing, and ratings greatly increased as a result. Jordan's return to the game on March 19, 1995 between the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers, scored a 10.9 rating for NBC to become the highest rated regular-season NBA game of all time.[citation needed] In Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics, the Bulls' 107-90 win earned a 16.8 rating and a 31 share on NBC. This game was viewed in a then record 16,111,200 homes. Game 6 of the 1996 NBA Finals (where the Bulls clinched their fourth NBA Championship in six years) drew an 18.8 rating and a 35 share. The six games of the 1996 NBA Finals averaged a 16.7 rating which, at the time, ranked second all-time behind the 1993 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Suns that averaged a 17.9 rating. In 1997, ratings for the Bulls-Utah Jazz series were slightly better at 16.8. This rating was higher than the 16.7 rating generated by the seven-game 1997 World Series between the Florida Marlins and the Cleveland Indians, marking the second time the NBA Finals bested the MLB World Series in television ratings.[citation needed] The 1998 Finals repeated that accomplishment and more by blowing away the 1993 record,[citation needed] averaging an 18.7 rating, and passing the 14.1 rating generated by the 1998 World Series between the New York Yankees and the San Diego Padres. The deciding Game 6 (and Michael Jordan's final game with the Bulls) registered an NBA record 22.3 rating with a 38 share.[citation needed] The game was viewed by 72 million people, breaking the record set earlier that postseason by Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals between the Pacers and Bulls (that same game set a record for highest-rated non-Finals NBA game with a 19.1/33).[citation needed] The 1998 Finals would be the last time the NBA Finals produced a higher rating than that year's World Series until 2008. (Since 2008, the NBA Finals has outdone the World Series in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.)

Post-Jordan decline[edit]

NBA ratings declined from their peak following the retirement of Michael Jordan. Ratings for the 1999 NBA Finals (which, in fairness, came after a lockout shortened season and included a wild-card team in the New York Knicks and the infamously poor-ratings producer San Antonio Spurs) declined from the previous year from 18.7 to 11.3. Primetime regular season games, which had become fairly routine and highly rated during the Jordan years, set record lows for NBC after Jordan retired.[citation needed]

With the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s, the NBA Finals ratings averaged 11.3 in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The highest NBA Finals ratings on NBC after Jordan left was the 2001 Finals, which featured the dominant and then-defending champion Lakers with Shaq and Kobe Bryant versus the polarizing Allen Iverson and the underdog Philadelphia 76ers. The series produced a 12.1, a 35 percent decrease from 1998. NBC's last Finals in 2002 came after a resurgence in playoff ratings (including a 14.2 rating for Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals). However, the Finals itself (where the Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets) registered the lowest ratings the event had seen since 1981, topping out at a 10.2 average.[citation needed]

ABC (also ESPN on ABC) (2002-)[edit]

Main article: NBA on ABC

Regular-season record lows[edit]

ABC's regular-season NBA television ratings have routinely finished between a 2.0 and a 2.5 ratings score. While these ratings compare favorably to the NHL's Stanley Cup Finals, it is extremely low by NBA standards.[citation needed] Thirty-nine (or just over a third of) NBA games on ABC have registered a 2.1 or lower rating.

ABC routinely had games register ratings of below 2.0, and set record lows for NBA network TV ratings in each of its first two seasons.[citation needed] Twice in March 2004, ABC registered a 1.1 rating with a 3 share, the lowest rating on a broadcast network in NBA history.[citation needed] ABC's March 28, 2004 telecast featuring the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic, was outdrawn by the NCAA Men's Division II Basketball Championship game on CBS.[citation needed] Without the aid of the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant matchup in the 2004–05 season, ABC would have set another record low that year.[citation needed] Even with that aid, the network was only able to register a 2.4 average rating (which was even with the record low from the previous season). ABC set a record low for average playoff ratings during the 2005 NBA Playoffs,[citation needed] even as rival TNT (also experiencing lower ratings) set a record for the highest ratings the NBA had ever gotten on cable, thanks to Game 7 of the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals.[citation needed]

ABC tied its record low ratings mark from the 2004-05 season in 2005-06, scoring a 2.2 average overall.[citation needed] On March 19, 2006, a rained-out NASCAR telecast got a higher television rating than ABC's Lakers-Cleveland Cavaliers game (featuring Kobe Bryant versus Lebron James). While the game itself had ratings 30 percent higher than the previous year, the situation was an embarrassment for the NBA.[citation needed] On April 30, 2006, another rained-out race outrated an NBA game (Miami Heat-Bulls, First Round, Game 4). NASCAR usually outrates regular season NBA (as well as MLB and NHL) games by over 200 percent.[citation needed]

ABC's NBA ratings began to bounce back during the 2006 NBA Playoffs, led by their highest Sunday afternoon rating since taking over the NBA for Game 7 between the Cavaliers-Pistons (6.1/14).[citation needed] Overall, ABC's 2006 NBA Playoff coverage averaged a 3.8, up from 2005, but still down from 2004.

The NBA Finals[edit]

NBA Finals game-by-game Nielsen ratings since 1991
Net. Year Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5 Game 6 Game 7
NBC 1991 12.6/-- 16.1/29 15.7/31 15.2/30 19.7/36 None None
NBC 1992 13.5/25 13.7/26 13.6/26 16.0/29 13.9/28 14.7/29 None
NBC 1993 16.8/29 14.6/29 17.2/32 19.8/35 19.0/36 20.3/39 None
NBC 1994 12.6/23 10.7/21 12.4/24 12.9/23 7.8/14 11.3/24 17.9/31
NBC 1995 14.7/26 12.0/23 14.1/25 14.9/26 None None None
NBC 1996 16.8/31 13.9/27 15.8/28 18.1/33 17.2/33 18.8/35 None
NBC 1997 15.8/27 15.1/27 14.2/27 16.9/30 20.1/35 18.5/35 None
NBC 1998 18.0/32 16.6/31 16.2/28 19.1/33 19.8/37 22.3/38 None
NBC 1999 11.5/20 9.6/19 12.1/21 12.0/22 11.0/22 None
NBC 2000 10.5/18 9.9/20 10.9/19 13.1/24 10.0/20 14.7/26 None
NBC 2001 12.4/23 11.7/22 12.7/23 12.6/23 11.2/22 None
NBC 2002 10.6/20 9.1/18 10.2/18 10.8/19 None
ABC 2003 6.4/11 5.2/10 7.0/12 6.6/12 6.2/12 7.5/14 None
ABC 2004 9.8/17 10.7/19 10.5/19 12.7/22 13.8/23 None
ABC 2005 7.2/13 6.9/12 7.2/13 7.2/13 8.4/15 8.8/15 11.9/22
ABC 2006 7.8/14 8.0/14 8.0/14 7.8/14 9.0/17 10.1/18 None
ABC 2007 6.3/11 5.6/10 6.4/11 6.5/12 None
ABC 2008 8.7/16 8.5/15 9.2/16 8.7/16 10.2/19 10.7/19 None
ABC 2009 7.8/14 8.2/14 8.6/15 9.4/17 8.0/14 None
ABC 2010 8.6/14 9.2/15 9.6/16 9.9/18 10.8/18 10.4/18 15.6/27
ABC 2011 9.0/15 9.3/15 9.1/15 9.6/16 10.8/18 13.3/23 None
ABC 2012 9.9/16 10.4/17 8.8/16 10.5/18 10.9/18 None None
ABC 2013 8.8/14 8.5/15 8.5/14 10.0/16 9.5/16 12.3/21 15.3/26
ABC 2014 9.0/15 9.0/15 9.0/15 9.3/15 10.3/18 None None
ABC 2015 10.6/20 10.5/19 11.1/20 11.7/21 11.8/21 13.4/24 None

ABC's ratings for the NBA Playoffs and Finals have been extremely low compared to NBC's. In its last year televising the NBA, 2002, NBC experienced a growth in playoff ratings, leading to the highest rated Western Conference Finals in NBA history, and a 14.2 rating for Game 7 of that series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. ABC's highest rating overall was a 15.6 with which came in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals—lower than the 14.2 registered by the Lakers-Kings series. While other sports were also languishing with low ratings (i.e., baseball, which has seen three out of the last four World Series score near-record-low ratings), the NBA joined the ratings-challenged NHL as the only two out of the four major sports to have their championship ratings dip below a 10.0. (Baseball joined the family when the 2008 and, later, the 2010 and 2012 World Series dipped below the 10 mark; some have speculated that World Series ratings will not return to double-digits again.)

2003 NBA Finals[edit]

During its twelve-year run on NBC, the NBA Finals never received a TV rating lower than a 10.0. In 2003, however, thanks in part to a playoff schedule that started the Finals nearly a week after the Conference Finals ended, ratings for the series between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets plunged to a record-low 6.5. Games were routinely beaten by reruns of series on CBS.

No game in the series reached a 7.6 rating or a double-digit overnight rating. In addition to Game 2 of the 2005 NBA Finals, Games 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the 2003 series rank as the only championship games out of the NBA or MLB to have below a 7.0 rating.[citation needed] Game 6 of the series, the deciding game, ranked number 6 in number of households watched.

Many attributed the drop to a relatively superstar-free Finals, which involved two small markets (Indeed, the Spurs would later pull equally low ratings in 2005 and 2007). Others pinned the ratings drop on bad play (the score at halftime of Game 3 was 33-30). ABC's telecasts also received a large amount of criticism. Former ABC Sports Vice President Jim Spence laid part of the blame on ABC itself: There were too many announcers, too many camera cuts and an overuse of technology.[3] The New York Post took notice of the fact that ABC's graphics had not been updated or changed in any way for the Finals,[4] while The Miami Herald noted that the announcing team of Brad Nessler, Bill Walton and Tom Tolbert was as bad as the basketball. In addition, games routinely began at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time, nearly forty-five minutes earlier than previous NBA Finals.

2004 NBA Finals[edit]

Highest Rated ABC Games
Rating Game Playoff/Date
15.6/27 Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers Game 7, 2010 NBA Finals
15.3/26 San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 7, 2013 NBA Finals
13.8/23 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons Game 5, 2004 NBA Finals
13.4/24 Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game 6, 2015 NBA Finals
13.3/23 Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat Game 6, 2011 NBA Finals
12.7/22 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons Game 4, 2004 NBA Finals
12.3/21 San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 6, 2013 NBA Finals
11.9/22 Detroit Pistons vs. San Antonio Spurs Game 7, 2005 NBA Finals
11.8/21 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors Game 5, 2015 NBA Finals
11.7/21 Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game 4, 2015 NBA Finals
11.1/20 Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game 3, 2015 NBA Finals
10.9/18 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat Game 5, 2012 NBA Finals
10.8/18 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics Game 5, 2010 NBA Finals

Ratings for the 2004 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Pistons went up significantly, helped largely by the presence of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. As the series went on, and the heavily favored Lakers were toppled by the underdog Pistons, ratings gained momentum, eventually topping out at an 11.5 overall average, the best Finals rating since 2001. Some reasons for the improved ratings — in addition to the presence of the star-studded Lakers — include the fact that the NBA pushed the games' start times back to 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, and that games were shifted from the traditional Wednesday-Friday-Sunday rotation to a Tuesday-Thursday-Sunday rotation, eliminating games airing on low-rated Friday nights.

Commercial promotion was ramped up for the 2004 NBA Finals as well. Whereas the 2003 NBA Finals received very little fanfare on ABC or ESPN, the 2004 Finals were promoted more on both networks. Even so, NBA-related promotions on ABC were still down significantly from promotions on NBC. NBA promos took up 3 minutes and 55 seconds of airtime on ABC during the week of May 23, 2004, comparable to 2 minutes and 45 seconds for the Indianapolis 500; promotions for the Indianapolis 500 outnumbered promotions for the NBA Finals fourteen-to-nine from the hours of 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm.[5]

2005 NBA Finals[edit]

The 2005 NBA Finals averaged an 8.2 rating, the second-lowest average in league history.[citation needed] The series between the previous two champions, the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, was widely panned by the media as a slow, boring, defensive-minded series without any captivating stars. The media and the viewing public complained that games in the 2005 Finals began too late, making it harder for those on the East Coast to view the end.

Before the Finals began, ESPN's SportsCenter aired a segment going over the reasons why sports fans should tune into the series; some fans felt as if this was a knock against the Spurs and Pistons, noting that ESPN usually did not have to give reasons to watch a championship sporting event.[citation needed]

The series got off to a shaky start, with four consecutive blowouts and single-digit ratings in every game. While Games 1, 3 and 4 had at least a 7.0 rating, Game 2 (on a Sunday night) fell to a 6.9. Games 5, 6 and 7 of the series stemmed the tide, with each game getting progressively higher ratings. All three games scored double-digit overnight ratings, and Game 7 achieved the only double-digit final rating of the series, an 11.9. The rating was only ABC's fifth double-digit final rating ever in covering the NBA; NBC had six double-digit ratings alone in 2002. The rating was one of the lowest ever for a major sport championship Game 7.[citation needed]

2006 NBA Finals[edit]

Viewers for 2006 NBA Finals
Game Viewers Rank
Game 1 11.5 million 5 for the week
Game 2 12.4 million tie-2 for the week
Game 3 12.2 million 3 for the week
Game 4 11.5 million 4 for the week
Game 5 14.3 million 1 for the week
Game 6 15.7 million 1 for the week

Though the 2006 NBA Finals featured stars (Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, and Dirk Nowitzki), the series between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, both of whom were in the Finals for the first time in their respective histories, was only slightly up from the 2005 Finals. While single-digit ratings were predicted,[6] that the series finished with only an 8.5 ratings average served as a statement that the league's ratings would likely not return to even 2001 levels.

Even though the ratings were lower than expected, they were still higher than 2005 and much higher than 2003. In addition, ratings for the event dramatically bested golf's U.S. Open and the Stanley Cup Finals. The 2006 Finals would stand as only the second Final on ABC to have every game get at least a 7.8 rating (higher than every game of the 2003 Finals and all but three games of the 2005 Finals).[citation needed] Still, two of the games were below an 8.0, and two games matched the number. Prior to ABC's involvement in the NBA, 8.0 was the lowest the Finals had gone since the tape-delay days in the early 1980s, when the O.J. Simpson car chase upstaged Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

Game 6 of the series was only ABC's sixth NBA game to ever achieve a double-digit rating (10.1). While the series ranked as the third-lowest of the prime time era (since 1982), ABC press releases managed to spin the ratings in a positive light:

The ratings from the 2006 Finals signaled that the Spurs' two championships (in 2003 and 2005, which netted ABC a 6.5 and 8.2 rating respectively) were not isolated incidents of diminished interest, but instead a trend for the NBA on television.[citation needed]

2007 NBA Finals[edit]

Although the 2007 NBA Finals featured LeBron James making his first appearance in the NBA Finals, the series was a television bust.[8] San Antonio's four-game sweep of Cleveland finished with a record-low 6.2 television rating and 11 share on ABC.[9] That was down 27 percent from the 8.5/15 for Miami's six-game victory over Dallas from the previous year and 5 percent under the previous low, a 6.5/12 for San Antonio's six-game win over New Jersey in 2003. The NBA Finals averaged 9.3 million viewers this year. San Antonio's series-winning 83-82 victory on Thursday night got a 6.5/12, down 17 percent from the 7.8/14 for Game 4 in 2006.

The 2007 NBA Finals were the lowest-rated series in NBA Finals history.[citation needed] These poor ratings have been attributed to numerous things, such as the fact that Cleveland and San Antonio are generally smaller markets, and that game two occurred on the same night as The Sopranos series finale. Additionally, there has been criticism that both teams didn't score many points.[citation needed] The series was to bill LeBron James at the highest point in his career. He did account for a vast majority of the Cavaliers' performance in the playoffs, but was unable to deliver in the end.

Additionally, ABC's coverage placed more emphasis on the legacy of the game. More attention was directed towards league stars Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird — three players responsible for the league's success in the 1980s and 1990s.[citation needed] In addition, ABC's coverage placed more emphasis on celebrity and cross-network promotion. Eva Longoria, star of ABC's Desperate Housewives and then-fiancee of Spurs' point guard Tony Parker was featured at times during the games.

2008–2010: Lakers-Celtics rivalry resumes[edit]

Following the low ABC Finals ratings of the mid 2000s, the Finals ratings improved during the late 2000s. All three of the NBA Finals from 2008–2010 featured the Lakers, with two of the three finals seeing a Lakers-Celtics matchup.

The 2008 NBA Finals featured the Lakers and Celtics renewing their historic rivalry with their first meeting since 1987. The ratings improved greatly from the previous year's Finals. The six-game series garnered a 9.3 rating and an average of 14.9 million viewers, a 50% increase from 2007 and the highest Finals numbers since 2004.[citation needed] The series-clinching Game 6 finished with a 10.7 rating and drew 16.9 million viewers.[10]

The 2009 NBA Finals featured the Lakers for the second straight time, facing off against the Magic. The five-game series finished with an 8.4 rating, a 10% decrease from 2008, with the series averaging 14.3 million viewers. The series-clinching Game 5 had an 8.0 rating and garnered 14.2 million viewers.[11]

The 2010 NBA Finals featured a rematch of 2008 with a renewal of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, and proved to be a ratings hit. With the rivalry between the two most successful teams in the league and the Finals going seven games for the first time since 2005, the series achieved a 10.6 rating and an average of 18.1 million viewers, the highest numbers since 2004.[citation needed] This was a 26% increase from 2009, and a 14% increase from 2008, the last time the Lakers and Celtics met.[12] Game 7 garnered an 15.6 rating and 28.2 million viewers, making it the most-watched NBA game since the 1998 NBA Finals,[13] and besting the previous Game 7 in 2005 by 31%.

2011–2015: LeBron James era[edit]

The NBA Finals earned respectable ratings during the four years from 2011 that featured the Miami Heat, led by star LeBron James, in each of the four finals.

The 2011 NBA Finals, a rematch of 2006, featured the NBA's most scrutinized team—the Miami Heat against perennial playoff underachievers and underdog Dallas Mavericks. The six-game series, which had better ratings for Games 1, 3, and 5 (as compared to 2010), dropped slightly from the 2010 Final, with a 10.2 rating. The highest-ranked game, Game 6, registered a 13.3 rating and is now the third-most watched game in modern NBA on ABC history.[citation needed]

The 2012 NBA Finals featured the Miami Heat returning to avenge their 2011 Finals disappointment against newcomer, the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. The five-game series once again saw ratings growth, with Games 1, 2, 4, and 5 all having better numbers than the previous year. It was the highest rated five-game series since the 2004 Finals.[citation needed] The series was the third consecutive Finals to reach double-digits, and the fourth in the ABC era to do so.

Once LeBron returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers following the 2014 Finals, he reached his fifth straight final after bringing the Ohio franchise to their second Eastern Conference title. LeBron's Cavaliers against a Golden State Warriors team that finished with the best result of the regular season made the 2015 NBA Finals get the best viewership since the record-setting 1998 Finals. The series attracted an average of 19.939 million viewers, with the decisive game 6 having 23.25 million viewers despite direct competition from the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.[14]

Cable ratings[edit]

In the 2005-06 season, ESPN and TNT's ratings were up slightly in the regular season and up significantly in the playoffs. TNT's ratings for second round playoff games were up 22 percent from the previous year, while ESPN posted double digit increases in both the first and second rounds of the playoffs. ESPN's Conference Final ratings were up 20 percent from the previous year, from a 4.0 to a 4.8. TNT's Conference Final ratings fell to their lowest level since 2003.

Turner Sports[edit]

Main articles: NBA on TNT and NBA on TBS
Conference Final ratings (2003–2006)
Year Net. Games Conf. Teams Rating
2003 ESPN 2, 4 East NJN 4, DET 0 2.8
TNT All West SAS 4, DAL 2 4.6
2004 ESPN All East DET 4, IND 2 3.8
TNT All West LAL 4, MIN 2 6.3
2005 ESPN 2, 3, 5 West SAS 4, PHO 1 4.0
TNT All East DET 4, MIA 3 5.0
2006 ESPN 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 East MIA 4, DET 2 4.8
TNT All West DAL 4, PHO 2 4.6

The NBA on TNT (and previously TBS) has been on the air for over two decades. In the last three years, NBA coverage on TNT (with help from various dramatic telecasts, including in 2005, The Closer and Into the West) has helped the network to season wins on cable television. In 2004, the ratings for the NBA Playoffs helped TNT become the #1 ranked cable outlet for the sweeps month of May.[15] Also in 2004, TNT set a record for most viewed NBA playoff game in cable history, with 6.5 million households for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves. A year later, TNT broke that record, with 6.75 million households for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Pistons and Heat. That Game 7, which scored a 6.2 national rating, was not only a record, "but it out delivered all of its broadcast television competition on the night among targeted adult demos, including adults 18-34, adults 18-49, men 18-34, men 18-49, and men 25-54. Game 7 on Turner also produced a higher U.S. household rating cumulatively than shows on all broadcast networks except for those on CBS.".[16] However, ratings for that year's Conference Final were down 20.6 percent. Overall, TNT's ratings have been better than counterpart ESPN's since 2002 (the first year the networks began competing against each other). During the 2005 NBA Playoffs, TNT recorded its highest first round playoff ratings in its history of carrying the NBA; the number fell by 1 percent for the first round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs.

The May 4, 2006 telecast of Game 6 of the Phoenix Suns-Los Angeles Lakers first round series was seen in 3,713,000 homes, setting a record for a cable first round NBA playoff game. The previous record had been 3,606,000 for a 1995 game between the Bulls (who had just recently had Michael Jordan return from his first retirement) and the then-Charlotte Hornets.

TNT's May 22, 2006 Game 7 doubleheader produced high ratings. The first game of the doubleheader (Mavericks-Spurs) generated a 5.7 rating, while the second game (Los Angeles Clippers-Phoenix Suns) scored a 4.9.


Main article: NBA on ESPN

ESPN's NBA Friday and NBA Wednesday coverage has averaged ratings similar to (but slightly lower than) TNT's regular season coverage since the network began televising NBA games in 2002. On January 17, 2003, ESPN achieved the then-second highest regular season rating on cable in NBA history when it televised the first showdown between then-Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal and Houston Rockets then-rookie Yao Ming. The game set a record for most watched basketball game on ESPN, with a rating of 3.82. On Christmas Day 2004, ESPN's Pacers-Pistons game (a rematch of the brawl) got a 3.5 rating.

In 2004, ESPN set a record for most watched basketball game on the network, with Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Pistons and Pacers. The game scored a 5.0 rating and averaged 4.4 million households. In 2006, Game 5 of the Pistons-Heat Eastern Conference Final bested that rating, netting a 5.5 with 4.9 million viewers. The game was ESPN's highest rated 2nd quarter program in network history. Game 6 of the same series got a 5.4 rating and slightly fewer viewers. The 2006 Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami and Detroit was the highest rated Conference Finals ESPN has aired, finishing with a 4.8 average.

On April 22, 2006, ESPN aired Game 1 of the Bulls–Heat first round playoff series on "ESPN Full Circle" (a treatment previously given to a Duke-North Carolina college basketball game earlier that year). The 'traditional' game telecast aired on ESPN (called by Mike Tirico, Steve Jones and Bill Walton) while a telecast shown exclusively from the 'above-the-rim' camera aired on ESPN2, called by John Saunders, Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Scottie Pippen from ESPN's Times Square studios. Additional forms of the game telecast aired on several ESPN platforms (including ESPN360 and ESPN Mobile). The Full Circle presentation resulted in a total 45 percent increase in viewership from the previous year. ESPN itself received a 26 percent increase from the previous year's presentation of an Indiana Pacers-Boston Celtics playoff game, and the game following (Los Angeles Clippers versus the Denver Nuggets) was up 17 percent over the previous year.[17]

ESPN scored its most viewed first or second round NBA playoff game with their May 19, 2006 broadcast of the Spurs–Mavericks Game 6, until the Lakers and Rockets in 2009.

The All-Star Game[edit]

All-Star Game ratings since 1990
Net. Year Result Rating
CBS 1990 East 130, West 113 9.5/13
NBC 1991 East 116, West 114 7.8/21
NBC 1992 West 153, East 113 12.8/26
NBC 1993 West 135, East 132 14.3/22
NBC 1994 East 127, West 118 9.1/14
NBC 1995 West 139, East 112 10.7/17
NBC 1996 East 129, West 118 11.7/20
NBC 1997 East 132, West 120 11.2/19
NBC 1998 East 135, West 114 10.6/17
NBC 1999 Canceled due to the lockout None
NBC 2000 East 137, West 126 6.9/12
NBC 2001 East 111, West 110 5.1/8
NBC 2002 West 135, East 120 8.2/15
TNT 2003 West 155, East 145 (2OT) 6.6/12
TNT 2004 West 136, East 132 5.1/10
TNT 2005 East 125, West 115 4.9/8
TNT 2006 East 122, West 120 4.3/8
TNT 2007 West 153, East 132 4.2/7
TNT 2008 East 134, West 128 3.8/6
TNT 2009 West 146, East 119 4.5/7
TNT 2010 East 141, West 139 3.8/6
TNT 2011 West 148, East 143 5.2/9
TNT 2012 West 152, East 149 4.4/7
TNT 2013 West 143, East 138 4.6/8
TNT 2014 East 163, West 155 4.3/7
TNT 2015 West 163, East 158 4.3/7

The All-Star game had been broadcast on network TV from 1990 until 2002. TNT began airing the NBA All-Star Game in 2003. That year, the All-Star Game featured NBA legend Michael Jordan's last appearance in the event, and the ratings were exceptionally strong. The game was the second most viewed NBA All-Star Game since the NBA lockout in 1999, even though it was on cable and the previous All-Star Games had been on network television (NBC). The game averaged 10.83 million viewers[18] and captured a 6.6 rating. The telecast, according to Time Warner, topped ABC and FOX in the time period. However, following this success, ratings for the event fell over the next three years. The 2005, 2006 and 2007 games each set record lows of 4.9 (2005), 4.3 (2006) and 4.2[19] (2007). Despite setting record lows, the All-Star Game is usually the highest rated and most viewed event on cable during the first quarter (January to March) of the cable television season.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  1. Sports Business Daily
  2. Media Life Magazine
  3. Zap2it
  4. NBA Finals numbers game.
  5. Sports Media Watch: 2000s ratings game