NBA Finals ratings way down from pre-pandemic numbers

NBA officials are happy Nielsen ratings are up for these NBA Finals between the Suns and Bucks over last year’s disaster from the fan-less Disney World bubble.

But the league still has a long way to go to equal pre-pandemic ratings figures.

On Tuesday, ESPN/ABC released a statement that viewership is up 33 percent over last year’s Finals between the Lakers and Heat through the first three games, averaging 9 million viewers.

But that was only part of the story. Compared to the 2019 NBA Finals between the Raptors and Warriors, the numbers are suffering.

According to Nielsen, the viewership through the first three games of 2021 compared to 2019 is down an average 4.63 million – or 34 percent.

The stunning part is in 2019, there was no local market for one of the clubs, the Raptors. The Nielsen ratings do not count Canada. Still, the 2019 Nielsen figure is pounding the current numbers.

The total viewership through three games in 2019 is 40.8 million compared to this year’s 26.95 million.

NBA Finals ratings 2021
The 2021 NBA Finals ratings are down significantly from 2019.
Getty Images

One factor is Milwaukee and Phoenix are small-market clubs. Commissioner Adam Silver could’ve used either of the Los Angeles teams (Clippers or Lakers) in the West and the Brooklyn Nets Dream Team or Philadelphia in the East to enhance the Nielsen ratings.

In 2020, part of the cause for the worst Finals ratings in history was due to the pandemic, it took place at a completely different time of the sports calendar – in October — and competed against the NFL regular season and MLB playoffs.

That’s not the case this year, though the timing still is off because of the pandemic schedule. The Finals normally finish up in late June.

NBA Finals ratings 2021 ABC
A view of Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Milwaukee on July 11, 2021.
NBAE via Getty Images

The Finals don’t exactly lack for star power but does not contain the usual icons of past Finals (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard).

Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is from Greece, Khris Middleton, Devin Booker and Chris Paul are the stars of these Finals.

The ratings in the markets of Milwaukee and Phoenix, however, are spectacular. Game 3 generated a 27.2 rating in the Milwaukee market, making it the highest-rated NBA game in the market since 2001. The broadcast drew a 23.1 rating in the Phoenix market.

Game 4 is Wednesday night on ABC at 9 p.m. The Suns lead the series 2-1.


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