NBA Playoff Ratings Off to Scalding Start

Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings
Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings / Loren Elliott/GettyImages

On paper the opening round of this year's NBA playoffs are quite attractive to viewers. The most attractive they've been in years, really. There is no overwhelming favorite to take home the title after a year of wild parity. All of the league's marquee names-- Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo-- are prominently involved. And the games themselves should shape up to be very good in the opening round! There are a few snoozer matchups but probably five of the eight first-round series will fall into the competitive-to-very-competitive range. Add in the increased scoring this year and it's a recipe for a quality ratings stew if we've ever seen one.

The early returns suggest that is just the case. ESPN and ABC posted record numbers for opening weekend of the playoffs, averaging 4.28 million viewers over five games. It's the highest since they started broadcasting the playoffs in 2003 and a three percent increase from last year. The numbers were especially high for Lakers-Grizzlies and Warriors-Kings matchup. Per ESPN:

The Sacramento Kings victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 averaged 6,257,000 viewers, making it the most-watched opening Saturday night playoff game ever onABC. It peaked with 7,562,000 viewers from 11-11:15 p.m. ET. It was up 38 percent vs. last year’s comparable game between the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets. Warriors vs. Kings Game 1 was the most-watched program of the day across all of television and in all key demos.

ABC’s two opening weekend games averaged 5,911,000 viewers, up three percent from last year. Game 1 of the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Memphis Grizzlies series on Sunday averaged 5,544,000 viewers, peaking with 7,494,000 viewers from 5:15-5:30 p.m.

Not to be outdone, TNT posted a great line. Over five million viewers tuned into the Suns-Clippers duel on Sunday, a jump over 25 percent from last year's timeslot (which was Easter Sunday). Per Sports Media Watch:

Clippers-Suns took top honors on cable with a 2.7 and 5.04 million on TNT Sunday night — up a third in ratings and a quarter in viewership from Pelicans-Suns on Easter last year (2.0, 4.02M) and the most-watched opening weekend playoff game on cable since 2017 (Bulls-Celtics: 5.14M; Thunder-Rockets: 5.16M).

The other TNT games (Bucks-Heat and Nuggets-Wolves) were at the same level or down a touch from last year, which lines up given they were not only the late games but also the 1-8 seed matchups.

All in all this is about as good as it'll get for the NBA in the ratings department. Every major market has at least one team participating in postseason play except Chicago. The only ratings-driving big names missing are Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving (Zion will need to play more before we can label him a ratings driver). There should be a bunch of close games and there aren't any teams truly hobbled out there due to injury (yet).

If things break right the NBA could be posting a very impressive set of ratings for this year's playoffs. At the very least they got off on the right foot.