NBA Finals Drawing Biggest Audience in 17 Years

LeBron James, Stephen Curry
The Associated Press

The NBA Finals has returned to the halcyon years when series games drew an average of twenty million viewers, a number not seen since 1998, when the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan defeated the Utah Jazz while 29 million people watched.

“Twenty million people once routinely watched games in the N.B.A. finals — when Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were in the White House,” Richard Sandomir writes in the New York Times. But it hasn’t happened since the year of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. “Now, as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors head to Game 6 on Tuesday, with the Warriors holding a 3-2 series lead, the 20 million threshold is well within reach again.”

The basketball battle between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors battle, featuring current MVP Steph Curry and former MVP Lebron James, draws 19.2 million viewers per game, 25% higher than 2014. The highest number of viewers since 1998 occurred in 2001, when the Los Angeles Lakers five-game victory over the Philadelphia 76ers attracted an average of 18.9 million people. The last five finals have generated an average of 15.5 million to 18.1 million viewers. Game 5 of this year’s finals, facing off against the finale of Game of Thrones, drew 20.5 million viewers. Last year’s Game 5, in which the San Antonio Spurs won the championship over the Miami Heat, drew a total audience of 17.9 million.

The average for the 2015 Finals will likely rise as the decisive games are played; viewership typically rises when the championship of a sport depends on one game. Should the Cavaliers win at home tonight and force a Game 7 in Oakland, Thursday night’s ratings likely eclipse the numbers from tonight.

Other factors increasing the audience response in 2015 include the saga of LeBron James returning to his hometown, competitive games decided in the fourth quarter and overtime, and matters pertaining to supply and demand: Cleveland attempts to win its first professional sports championship since 1964 and the Warriors try to win their first NBA title since 1975.