NBA Postseason Broadcast Ratings, 1987-2007

Categories: TV Ratings,TV Ratings Reference

Written By

April 20th, 2008

NBA Postseason, Where Amazing TV Ratings No Longer Happen!

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Quick, guess which year was Michael Jordan's last in the NBA Finals?

Marketed far more on the power of individual stars than any other US team sport, NBA Basketball suffers the most when it lacks those charismatic stars in postseason play.

1987-1989 were the end of the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era. 1990 saw an interim year and a ratings low. 1991 began the Michael Jordan championship era, with the Chicago Bulls winning championships in 1991, 1992 and 1993. During Jordan's minor league baseball excursion years of 1994 & 1995, the Hakeem Olajuwon lead Houston Rockets didn't have nearly the star power and ratings crashed again.

Tired of being a mediocre baseball player, Jordan's return brought NBA postseason ratings up again for 1996, 1997 and 1998. His final year being the best finals ratings of his career (and the highest HH ratings we have in our data going back to 1974). Another interim year after Jordan's exit and ratings plunged again. One might have thought that the Kobe/Shaq lead LA Lakers might have raised ratings back to Jordanesqe levels, but they merely halted the decline near the 1990 & 1994 lows from 2000-2002.

NBA Postseason Ratings, Playoffs and Finals, 1987-2007

Year

Playoffs

Telecasts

Finals

Telecasts

Winner/Runner-up

1987

9.13

19

24.12

6

Lakers/Boston

1988

9.17

16

21.70

7

Lakers/Detroit

1989

9.72

21

21.26

4

Detroit/Lakers

1990

9.04

19

17.19

5

Detroit/Portland

1991

9.74

22

23.91

5

Chicago/Lakers

1992

10.90

24

20.84

6

Chicago/Portland

1993

9.56

24

27.21

6

Chicago/Phoenix

1994

10.85

24

17.25

5

Houston/New York

1995

10.68

22

20.08

4

Houston/Orlando

1996

10.08

22

24.86

6

Chicago/Seattle

1997

10.56

22

25.59

6

Chicago/Utah

1998

8.58

25

29.04

6

Chicago/Utah

1999

7.80

31

16.01

5

San Antonio/New York

2000

7.28

27

17.40

6

Lakers/Indiana

2001

8.13

31

19.00

5

Lakers/Philadelphia

2002

6.87

7

15.68

4

Lakers/New Jersey

2003

6.67

6

9.86

6

San Antonio/New Jersey

2004

4.82

9

17.94

5

Detroit/Lakers

2005

5.34

10

12.54

7

San Antonio/Detroit

2006

8.82

15

12.97

6

Miami/Dallas

2007

9.29

4

San Antonio/Cleveland

Without the Lakers in the finals in 2003, the NBA the San Antonio Spurs/New Jersey Nets finals produced a ratings catastrophe. The return of the Lakers in 2004 brought the finals back to their previous early century ratings. The following two years seemed to establish a new baseline just under 13 million average viewers, a level that would have been considered terrible just 5 years earlier, but probably had David Stern breathing a sigh of relief. That didn't last long when the NBA's newest name star, LeBron James, and his otherwise overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers were swept away by the boringly successful San Antonio Spurs taking NBA finals ratings with them to their lowest level in the years for which we have data (1974-).

What does this year's NBA finals ratings picture look like?

If the NBA gets its ideal ratings matchup of the Kobe Bryant lead LA Lakers against the Pierce-Garnett-Allen lead Boston Celtics, I'll guess that the finals will average 13 million viewers. The other matchups are too numerous to speculate about at this time, but I'll update when the finals are set. Sadly for the NBA, many of the reasonably possible matchups would leave them staring into another ratings abyss.

2006 & 2007 data is Live+SD, all previous years are Live viewing.

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 
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