Early NBA Finals Ratings Are Not the Disaster Many Predicted

2023 NBA Finals - Game One
2023 NBA Finals - Game One / Pool/GettyImages

There was a truly shocking amount of discussion and/or concern surrounding the ratings for the 2023 NBA Finals. This discussion was largely driven by the possibility that the Los Angeles Lakers would face the Boston Celtics in the Finals after both teams made it to their respective conference finals, a matchup that would draw many millions of eyeballs. It very quickly became apparent that neither the Lakers nor the Celtics would advance (even if Boston gave more of a show) and thus the discussion flipped-- how bad would the ratings be without them? How good could the ratings ever get for a Denver Nuggets-Miami Heat series? How upset must Adam Silver be with that outcome?

It was all very odd because normally the only people who care about ratings are media nerds (like those who make up The Big Lead's staff) and the higher-ups at the networks and leagues who will make lots and lots of money if the ratings are high. This time was different, for whatever reason. The general discourse indicated the ratings for Nuggets-Heat would be very bad because neither city is considered a large basketball viewing market and the biggest superstar in the series flies extremely under the radar for a two-time MVP.

Well, the numbers are in for Game 1 on Thursday, and it seems the sky is not falling. Disaster has not struck. This series will be fine numbers-wise. It won't be record-breaking but it'll be fine.

Last year's Game 1 between the Celtics and Golden State Warriors (two alleged ratings drivers) clocked in with an average of 11.9 million viewers. So this is down less than five percent from last year despite the differences in market size. Not incredible but not a complete let-down by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that it managed these numbers despite the game not being close in any fashion until the fourth quarter (and even then it wasn't really that close) portends a positive outlook for the more competitive games in the series, like Game 2.

We'll await the full body of work to make any sweeping conclusions but these early returns suggest that people are going to watch the Finals. Even though the teams are not from LA or Boston or are the Warriors. Exciting news for ESPN and the NBA.