It was quite a day for sports on Sunday evening. The Los Angeles Lakers faced off against the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Tip-off was at 7:30 p.m. ET, about one hour before the Seattle Seahawks kicked off on Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings. The football game went down to the wire as Russell Wilson tossed a game-winning touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf with 15 seconds remaining. The basketball game was... not as close. The Lakers got out to a big lead and never relinquished it; by the end of the night, they had won their 17th NBA title and LeBron James had a fourth championship.
Now it's time for everyone's favorite sports-adjacent hot topic: ratings! The ratings have been released for both of these games. The NFL game put up an impressive number of 11.4 million viewers, while the NBA game was not nearly as successful, pulling only 5.6 million viewers in essentially the same timeslot. There is much ado about this, because one of these games decided a championship and one was an early-season matchup between one good team and one middling team.
However, for those who have been paying attention to ratings before a certain person living in a white house tweeted about it, this is no surprise. The NFL should not be used as a baseline for any ratings discussion for anything on television, much less the NBA, because it regularly posts outlandishly high numbers. NFL games regularly top end-of-year lists for most-watched programs on television in any given season. The circumstances do not matter. Death, taxes, and high NFL viewership/ratings. The numbers from this Sunday do not indicate the NBA is in a death spiral of viewership and should be panicking.
Now, should the NBA be concerned about a Finals-clinching game getting less than six million viewers? A bit, yes. It's not even a third of the viewership for Game 6 of last year's Finals, which drew about 18 million viewers. But -- at the risk of sounding like a broken record -- context matters! A lot! Especially in these discussions!
This is the first and probably the last time an NBA Finals game will go up against the NFL in a war for viewers. Your average casual sports fan is significantly more inclined to tune in to an NFL game than an NBA game, regardless of the stakes. The NFL is just that much more deeply ingrained into the fabric of our society than the NBA is. This is also an election year, and an insane one at that. The world is still battling the coronavirus pandemic.
There is just... a lot going on. Even for someone like myself, an avid NBA fan, thoughts have not lingered very long on the NBA Finals because of everything else demanding attention, not just football. This is very different from 2019. Back then, the world was not on fire, election coverage was not in full swing, and the Finals were in June, where the only other major American sport drawing eyes is baseball.
So, in summary, yes, SNF blew a championship-clinching NBA Finals game out of the water in terms of viewership. The NBA is undoubtedly not pleased about that. But that does not mean the ship is sinking and the league may as well disband. It simply means the NFL is still king, and the NBA was negatively affected by COVID-19. Like literally everyone else. It's as simple as that.