This year’s NBA Finals have yet to spark, both in terms of quality of the games, and the all-important TV ratings. Yes there is star power with Lebron James and Steph Curry, yes it’s a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, and yes the city of Cleveland is looking for an elusive championship. But all three games have been massive blowouts, which continues a startling trend of boring playoff basketball games. In fact, there has not been a one possession game in any of the last 25 playoff games dating back almost a month. Fans want to watch close, entertaining basketball games, and the ratings so far for the Finals bear that out.
The average margin of victory through the first three games of the NBA Finals is a whopping 26 points per game. Most fans are tuning out before the game is officially over and it’s hurting the ratings. Last year, Games 1 and 2 of the Finals were close, thrilling games that both went to overtime. This year the first three games have been over with ten minutes to play. Game 1 of this year’s Finals was watched by 19.197 million people which was up compared to the previous year. Game 2 however was down from 19.2 million in 2015 to 17.361 this year. Game 3 fell from 18.7 million to 16.5 million. Simply put, blowouts are bad for ratings.
To be fair to the NBA and ABC, these are still really good numbers. Not only are these numbers good, but ABC is crushing all of the competition. The first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals on NBC and NBCSN averaged 3.13 million viewers while the Copa America Centenario on Fox, FS1 and FS2 is averaging about 869,000 viewers. Univsion’s Spanish language coverage of the Copa America is drawing better than Fox’s, but is still far below the NBA Finals, drawing 2.241 million per game through the first twelve games. In the two markets involved, the NBA Finals are cleaning up. Both Cleveland and the Bay Area are posting incredible overnight ratings well over 30. By comparison, the San Jose Sharks, who are in the same TV market as the Warriors, are getting just a fraction of that for their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
One factor that could be playing into all of this is the lack of production from the super star players. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have been invisible the first three games for the Warriors, which was glossed over after Games 1 and 2, but has come under scrutiny after they got run off the court in Game 3. While Lebron James has been good for the Cavs, he has not had any help from his teammates, which is the reason he left the Cavs for Miami in 2010. Kevin Love has been so bad that the Cavs did better when he missed game three and Kyrie Irving has been a turnover machine. However, most fans knew that the Cavs are way too talented to get swept, and many expected the home run effort in Game 3. It remains to be seen if they can play that way for the rest of the series, especially bearing in mind that the Splash Brothers have yet to get going.
People are going to watch the NBA Finals. Fans want entertaining basketball games, but they just haven’t seen it in a long time. While the ratings for the NBA Finals are down this year compared to last year, they are still very good ratings and should this series spark to life and go another two or three games, the ratings jump could possibly be a record breaker. And if the superstars really get rolling, this could get a lot more fun.