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.

  • Bill Gorman

    @Rabbit, while I’m a likely viewer, I don’t really care who wins.

  • Slappy Go Jacky

    I’m going w/19.4 million over 6 games. A 7th game would surely push it over 20 million as it would clear 30 million viewers.

  • Hillbilly

    Posted June 10, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    18.9 million. OKC in 4.


    Welcome back! You musta bumped your head while you were away. ;) OKC in 4? The Heat get at least 2. If they don’t try to run with OKC & play Eastern Conference style basketball (tough physical defense) they might beat OKC.

  • MoneyCard

    OKC are a lot more hated than what people think, people forget this is the team that stole this franchise away from Seattle. There’s a good amount of people who haven’t forgiven their owner for that dirty move but the more hated team is still the Heat at the end of the day.

    People will still watch this series in droves because you got for the first time since 1997 two MVP candidates facing off in James and Durant plus this is the Heat’s second go around so 20 million is definitely possible.

  • Hillbilly

    Oops forgot my prediction. For the series (if it goes 6 games) 18 million. A game 7 will get 23 million.

  • Slappy Go Jacky

    game 6 last year did 23.880 million.

  • Sophia

    Wish the Lakers were still in it. :( Hope OKC wins this year, don’t like the Heat.

  • Hillbilly

    Slappy Go Jacky
    Posted June 10, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    game 6 last year did 23.880 million.


    Now you tell me. :???: Looks like I’ll be wrong again.

  • jim

    how ironic that it’s Durant vs Lebron in the NBA Finals. How convenient. NBA is more rigged than Boxing, WWE or horse racing

  • AppleStinx

    Hillbilly wrote: “…Looks like I’ll be wrong again.”

    Some things never seem to change… :grin:

  • Mark Wilkins

    no way it gets more viewers or 18-49 than a Micheal Jordan finals, but its gonna be the best numbers in the last 13 years

  • Bill Gorman

    “NBA is more rigged than Boxing, WWE or horse racing”

    You forgot to include Nielsen ratings in your conspiracy list. ;)

  • ZapBob

    OKC in 7 games!

  • Survivor Fan

    I think that this is the matchup that will get the highest ratings. I could see 20-22 million for a competitive series. I am not a fan of either team per se (being from Philadelphia), but I respect what the Heat have done and would like them to win. Selfishly, I would like the series to be over in six, because I will be on vacation in a foreign country as of the 25th.

  • JR

    Lol Bill. These conspiracy theories are getting way out of hand

  • lisa g.

    Should be a great series and I expect it to do very well in the ratings just based on Miami’s presence. OKC players aren’t well known but they are a fast, exciting team to watch. Mazel.

  • lisa g.

    Why do ppl respect what the Heat have done? They have done what was expected and more importantly, what they said they would do!

  • Joseph

    Concerning the historical NBA Finals ratings, it should be noted that in 1980, games in Los Angeles began at 11:35 P.M. EDT, and the midweek games in Philadelphia were shown on a tape-delay at 11:30 EDT (except in Philadelphia, where the games were shown live).

    In 1981, three of the four weeknight games were shown on tape at 11:30 P.M. EDT.

    If my memory serves me correct, only Game 6 aired live in prime-time, but it began at 10:05 P.M. EDT (9:05 P.M. local in Houston, where the game was played), so it would “damage” only one hour of CBS prime-time in the East.

    In Boston and Houston (the two cities whose teams were playing), the midweek games were shown live.

    The two weekend games of the 1981 Finals were matinees and broadcast live across the full CBS network.

  • JakeFrankie

    Yeah the NBA is so rigged, That’s why the SMALLEST market in the whole league OKC is in the Finals? Makes a lot of sense right? Idiots

    If I’m not mistaken the 2011 NBA Finals averaged a 10.2 final series rating rather than a 10.1, The series ratings was higher than first reported.

  • JR

    Why do some think this series will avg over 20 mil? Last season you had the Heat/Mavs. The Dallas Mavs are a top 5 market. OKC is really really small market. I understand the Lebron v. Durant matchup and the fact that the Thunder are way more exciting to watch than the Mavs, that’s why I have this series getting 18+ per game comparede to last years 17+. But to expect over 20 is pushing, wouldn’t you think?

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