Guess The LeBron James' Heat v. Kevin Durant's Thunder 2012 NBA Finals TV Ratings (Poll & Historical Data)

Categories: 1-Featured,TV Ratings Reference,TV Sports Ratings & News

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June 10th, 2012

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 lucky stars that LeBron James & Kevin Durant are in the 2012 NBA Finals.

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.

Note that while the graph above ends in 2010, the table below is through 2011.

NBA Finals TV Ratings, 1974-2011

Year Net Games HH Rating HH Share Average HHs (million) Average Viewers (million) Teams
2011 ABC 6 10.1  11.725 17.28 Heat/Mavericks
2010 ABC 7 10.6 18.144 Lakers/Celtics
2009 ABC 5 8.4 9.642 14.347 Lakers/Orlando
2008 ABC 6 9.3 17 10.530 14.941 Boston/Lakers
2007 ABC 4 6.2 11 6.912 9.289 San Antonio/Cleveland
2006 ABC 6 8.5 15 9.332 12.972 Miami/Dallas
2005 ABC 7 8.2 15 8.951 12.544 San Antonio/Detroit
2004 ABC 5 11.5 20 12.451 17.942 Detroit/Lakers
2003 ABC 6 6.5 12 6.955 9.864 San Antonio/New Jersey
2002 NBC 4 10.2 19 10.752 15.678 Lakers/New Jersey
2001 NBC 5 12.1 23 12.390 18.996 Lakers/Philadelphia
2000 NBC 6 11.6 21 11.677 17.402 Lakers/Indiana
1999 NBC 5 11.3 21 11.205 16.014 San Antonio/New York
1998 NBC 6 18.7 33 18.336 29.040 Chicago/Utah
1997 NBC 6 16.8 30 16.291 25.586 Chicago/Utah
1996 NBC 6 16.7 31 16.019 24.858 Chicago/Seattle
1995 NBC 4 13.9 25 13.284 20.078 Houston/Orlando
1994 NBC 5 12.0 23 11.291 17.253 Houston/New York
1993 NBC 6 17.9 33 16.694 27.209 Chicago/Phoenix
1992 NBC 6 14.2 27 13.097 20.838 Chicago/Portland
1991 NBC 5 15.8 32 14.750 23.910 Chicago/Lakers
1990 CBS 5 12.3 25 11.320 17.190 Detroit/Portland
1989 CBS 4 15.1 30 13.620 21.260 Detroit/Lakers
1988 CBS 7 15.4 31 13.620 21.700 Lakers/Detroit
1987 CBS 6 16.7 35 14.600 24.120 Lakers/Boston
1986 CBS 6 14.1 31 14.430 Boston/ Houston
1985 CBS 6 13.5 30 Lakers/Boston
1984 CBS 7 12.1 26 Boston/Lakers
1983 CBS 4 12.3 26 Philadelphia/Lakers
1982 CBS 6 13.0 28 Lakers/Philadelphia
1981 CBS 6 6.7 27 Boston/Houston
1980 CBS 6 8.0 29 Lakers/Philadelphia
1979 CBS 5 7.2 24 Seattle/Washington
1978 CBS 7 9.9 25 Washington/Seattle
1977 CBS 6 12.7 33 Portland/Philadelphia
1976 CBS 6 11.5 29 Boston/Phoenix
1975 CBS 4 10.1 28 6.920 11.380 Golden State/Washington
1974 CBS 7 13.5 32 Boston/Milwaukee

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, good ratings for ABC 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.

The past 10 NBA Finals have averaged 5.6 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 18 million viewers, slightly more than last season.

What's your guess?


2006-11 data is Live+SD, all previous years are Live viewing.

Of course we know that viewership and HH ratings have no bearing on the advertising revenue for ABC, but like most historical data from Nielsen we have, we lack the important adults 18-49 ratings.

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2012 The Nielsen Company All Rights Reserved.

  • JR

    I’m guessing I agree with you. 18 mil sounds about right if its 6 games. The only way it goes over 20 is with overtime games

  • JR

    Let’s face it the ratings will never ever be like the Jordan era of the NBA finals. A double digit rating now is considered very successful. Same thing with MLB. They use to be America’s past time delivering over 30 mil in each WS game, now they’re happy with over 15

  • cc

    Probably the 2 most hated NBA teams. Bandwagoners and the Stern family about the only ones who still care.

  • JR

    CC=ignorant, well if 18 million people watch each game, that’s a lot more than bandwagoners and Stern’s family. You sound like a hockey fan? Jealous? Lol Also, how the heck are the OKC Thunder hated? They have the humble superstar Durant

  • David Howell

    June finals = no meaningful broadcast competition = over 20m. And if not now, then never.

  • Lane

    Actually I think Thunder is most liked team in the NBA right now lol

    I say either
    Thunder in 6
    or Heat in 7

  • Rabbit

    I think the important question is: Which team do you want to see win, Bill and Robert? ;)

  • Cody

    Based on the Game 7 ECF Ratings, I have >20 million, assuming the series isn’t short. If it is a short series, then I think it will be 18-19.9 million.

  • Melanie

    The Finals are gonna be great, go Heat!! :)

  • EatMorePez


    Where do you live (perhaps Seattle?) and what websites are you visiting that lead you to believe the OKC Thunder are one of the most hated teams in the NBA? I think Lakers, Spurs and Mavs fans might dislike the Thunder, but NBA fans in general love OKC.

  • jp



  • JR

    Harden’s beard is awesome. It has its own fanbase

  • 728huey

    I’m sure the only people who hate OKC right now are those in South Florida, Southwest Texas, and the Puget Sound area, and I’d qualify that those folks living in the Puget Sound area are more livid at the owner and the previous owner for letting the team get out of Seattle than the OKC team itself.

    The one good thing about David Stern’s marketing of marquee players is that it can make up for an undersized TV market. OKC has to be in one of the smallest pro sports TV markets in America, yet they have two of the biggest stars in the NBA. This should be a highly rated series, especially if it goes six or seven games.

  • JR

    The Heat might be the most hated NBA team because of LeBron James, but I don’t know anyone that hates OKC or Durant. I think people will at least be tuning in just to see Miami lose the championship for the second straight year in a row.

  • Ferny

    I’m a Lakers fan and interested in this series, although not rooting for any team, it’s just a great matchup. And for that fool [cc] the Thunder aren’t the most hated team, they’re probably one of the mosted liked teams. With that said, Durant and the Thunder aren’t household names yet so my guess it’ll have similar or a tad bit higher ratings than it did in last years Finals.

  • diet_sunkist

    Still concerned about OKC being such a tiny market. Not sure if non-basketball fans even know who Kevin Durant is. But they did well in the ratings against San Antonio, a team that’s involved in some of the lowest TV ratings in NBA history, so that’s a good sign I guess.

    I’ll guess 14-16 Million if it goes 4-5 games, 18-20 Million if it goes 6-7 games.

  • Nick

    20-21 million, I guess.

  • JR

    It would’ve gotten over 20 mil if it was Lakers v. Heat. OKC is very exciting to watch but they just don’t have the casual fan support, at least not yet. Maybe in upcoming years

  • Polar Bear

    People want to see the Heat lose.

  • AppleStinx

    18.9 million. OKC in 4.

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