ESPN announced that Game 5 of the NBA Finals did a 13.4 overnight rating; this was up 37% from Game 4 and it was the fifth-highest Game 5 of the Finals that ABC has had out of 15 times (trailing all three Cavs-Warriors series, and Spurs-Lakers in 2004).
This is a win for ESPN and ABC; the first four games of the series were understandably low given that the Raptors’ local market does not count for United States ratings (and thus ESPN/ABC advertising), and that Kawhi Leonard is a superstar but is not the type of dynamic personality who is going to draw in the casual eyeballs that move ratings numbers on the margins. (That being said, as Michael McCarthy has pointed out at Front Office Sports, the NBA is doing just fine when you add the U.S. and Canada together.)
Game 6 should draw an even higher number, and if the Warriors force a Game 7 you’re going to see a lot of tweets talking about how ESPN executives might as well be Scrooge McDuck.
Yes, if it goes seven games there will still likely be a decline from when LeBron faced the Warriors in Game 7, but the fact that ABC and ESPN are getting at least six games this series is going to wind up being a big win from a total audience and thus advertising perspective over last year’s sweep.