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 and ABC are thanking their lucky stars that LeBron James and the Heat beat the Indiana Pacers to reach the 2013 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 2012.
NBA Finals TV Ratings, 1974-2012
|Year||Net||Games||HH Rating||HH Share||Average HHs (million)||Average 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, good ratings for ABC hinge on a long series because every potential clinching game typically rises in ratings pushing up the overall average.
Last year's Heat/Thunder NBA Finals averaged 16.9 million viewers which was decent for a five game series, much better than the five game 2009 Lakers/Magic series. But, recent Spurs NBA Finals have been very low rated, although their opponents didn't have the star power of LeBron & Co.
A longer series would of course drive the average up, but to make this a guess about ratings and not how long you think the series will go, let's assume a 6 game series for guessing purposes (the past 10 NBA Finals have averaged 5.7 games).
What's your guess?
2006-12 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: ©2013 The Nielsen Company All Rights Reserved.