Back in its normal time of year, featuring a marquee match from Stephen Curry’The NBA Finals took off against the famous Celtics, and it was a less than impressive start.
Thursday’s Celtics-Warriors NBA Finals 1 has average ratings of 6.4 and 11.9 million viewers across ABC (6.1, 11.4M) and ESPN2 (0.31, 501K), topping just the past two years as the series’ lowest opening since 2007 (Cavaliers-Tottenham). : 6.3, 9.21 million). There was some disagreement on Friday over whether ABC’s 11.4 million viewership was tentative or final. 1 The raw numbers do not include outdoor viewing and are therefore subject to significant incremental adjustment.
Pending any potential out-of-home raise, the Celtics’ comeback win dropped 19% in ratings and 11% in viewership from Warriors-Raptors Game 1 in 2019, with the previous finals set for June (7.9, 13.38 million). It is currently ranked as the lowest rated and least watched final game featuring Curry (29 TV broadcasts), and is ranked fourth in the 2019 series (7.6, 12.79 million).
It’s still easy for ratings and viewership to surpass the previous two finals, both of which have aired for months out of the season. Compared to Bucks-Suns in July of last year, Game 1’s ratings increased by 42% (from 4.5) and up to 39% in viewership (from 8.56 million*). Compared to two years ago – the Heat Lakers in a fanless bubble on the last day of September – ratings jumped by 56% (from 4.1) and viewers by 57% (from 7.58 million*). (*Viewer ratings for the last two finals are subject to review due to low viewership outside of Nielsen).
Since the NBA’s return from a hiatus nearly two years ago, Game 1 has been ranked second among all games after last year’s Suns-Bucks 6 win (6.6, 12.52 million*).
If there has been a noticeable improvement over the past two years, then Thursday’s first game ratings should be considered disappointing. Prior to 2019, the 29 consecutive Finals games averaged at least 9.0 and averaged 56 consecutively at least 14 million viewers. The Finals rating in the 6.0 range was the field of Tottenham in the mid-2000s, whose annual defensive buying has sunk deeper into the ratings. Much better numbers could have been expected for a chain placing the league’s biggest draw versus its most storied franchise, both of which are in the top ten media markets.
Then again, despite the strength of the NBA numbers at times in the post-season, there have been signs in recent weeks that the league’s momentum has slowed. Even last Sunday’s Celtics-Heat 7 was a disappointing draw by historical standards, with its rating of just 4.6 being easily the lowest in the last conference, Game 7 in the past 25 years. Watching outside of the home made the audience figure look more respectable – nearly ten million – but even that was the smallest audience at the last conference, Game 7 since 2005.
It’s still too early to announce this year’s failed Finals rankings. A long streak can beat a slow start; Raptors-Warriors opened three years ago at 13.38 million for game 1 and finished with an average of 15.5 million due to the solid performance of games 5 and 6.
If below expectations, the average game rating is still 1 3.6 in adults 18-49, 2.9 in 18-34 and 4.0 in 25-54, the highest TV number in that demographic since the Kansas men’s basketball game. NCAA Dukes on Turner in April (4.7, 3.5, 6.0).
The first game also topped last year’s World Championship opener, albeit a much less important match between Atlanta and Houston (6.1, 10.93 million*).
1 Nationals finalists for Game 1 (and all network broadcasts Thursday) weren’t expected until Monday due to the usual delays of Nielsen’s holiday week, but “arrived early” Daily ShowBuzz. The Hollywood Reporter, which also reported a figure of 11.4 million, said the numbers were “preliminary” and do not include outdoor viewing, but “are categorized as definitive assessments from two sources.” ESPN confirmed Friday night that official numbers won’t be available until Monday.