Game 6 of the NBA Finals drew a 13.2 overnight rating for ABC. There are multiple ways you can spin this positively or negatively, but the biggest deal in aggregate is that going six games propelled ESPN & ABC to beat their NBA playoff averages for both 2017 and 2018.
What this means is that all the games on ESPN & ABC combined to average a 5.1 overnight rating in these playoffs, versus 5.0 in both 2017 and 2018. Last season, the Finals — where the ratings are the highest — only got four games and in 2017 there were five.
Now, as Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily points out, these numbers for Game 6 are down versus the most recent comparable Game Six’s:
Nonetheless, there were a number of factors working against ABC & ESPN (and TNT) for these whole playoffs. LeBron is the league’s north star and he was absent. Kevin Durant missed more than a month, and all but one of the Finals games. The Finals featured a team in Toronto, whose ratings don’t count for viewership and thus advertising purposes in the United States. The Raptors’ star, Kawhi Leonard, is wonderful to watch for basketball purists but he also has about the least magnetic personality of any NBA superstar in recent memory. Ratings rise and fall on the margins of casual viewers, and Kawhi and the Raptors aren’t the formula to reel those people in.
Given all this, even if the average is propelled up on what many will observe as a technicality, it’s a win for ABC & ESPN. (And from the NBA’s perspective, which doesn’t quite help their US rights providers but is nonetheless great for the total health of the sport, Canada ratings have been expectedly massive for the series.)
It also comes as no surprise that the NBA Finals on ABC won the night of television for the 70th straight night. As I wrote earlier this week, sports on broadcast TV are in the midst of a stretch that is unprecedented in their dominance.