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 Finals TV Ratings, 1974-2008
|Year||Net||Games||HH Rating||HH Share||Avg. HHs (million)||Avg. Viewers (million)||Teams|
|2003||ABC||6||6.5||12||6.955||9.864||San Antonio/New Jersey|
|1999||NBC||5||11.3||21||11.205||16.014||San Antonio/New York|
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?
This year's ideal ratings matchup would be the Kobe Bryant lead Lakers vs. the LeBron James lead Cavaliers. An Orlando/Denver series wouldn't do nearly as well. Perhaps more important than the matchup though is the number of games the finals series lasts. A 4 game series among the weak ratings matchup certainly would set an all time low, but even among the marquis matchup wouldn't come close to last years ratings levels.
2006-8 data is Live+SD, all previous years are Live viewing.
Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2009 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.