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.
That's why the NBA is thanking its luck that LeBron James (& the rest of the Heat) is in the NBA Finals.
Those kidding themselves that the Mavericks are the draw should note that the Eastern conference Finals drew about 50% better audiences than the Western Finals this year.
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, 1974-2010
|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 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?
Now that the matchup is set, ABC ratings hinge on a long series, both because every potential clinching game typically rises in ratings, but also because any NBA Finals game will be far more highly rated than anything else ABC could possibly put on its schedule in June.
The past 10 Finals have averaged 5.5 games, so let's assume a 6 game series for ratings guessing purposes.
Given a six game series, I'll guess an average viewership of 16 million viewers.
What's your guess?
2006-10 data is Live+SD, all previous years are Live viewing.
Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2011 The Nielsen Company All Rights Reserved.