Cord-cutting and streaming have led to declining ratings across the entire television industry, but the NBA has created a product compelling enough to continue growing its audience. After each network experienced increases for national NBA broadcasts during the regular season, ratings success has continued into the playoffs.
Last Thursday was the NBA’s lowest rated playoff game of the first round which would be expected when competing with the NFL Draft. According to Sports Media Watch, game 6 of the Celtics Bucks series earned a 1.5 rating with 2.4 million viewers on TNT. It was the lowest rated game of the first-round, yet it still enjoyed a 28% increase in viewership from last year’s comparable timeslot.
The NBA bounced back Friday night with ESPN drawing a 2.9 metered market rating for their Game 6 broadcast of the Pacers and Cavaliers. The rating was an 81% increase from last year’s Friday night first round Game 6 between the Celtics and Bulls.
Game 7 of the Cavaliers – Pacers series on ABC generated a 5.4 metered market rating, the highest rated first round NBA Playoff game in 14 years according to Nielsen. The last first round NBA Playoffs game to receive a higher rating was an April 25th 2004 matchup between the Lakers and Rockets. To put in perspective how long ago the Lakers vs Rockets matchup was, Karl Malone led all scorers and Mark Jackson was not broadcasting the game, he was playing for the Houston team coached by Jeff Van Gundy.
Through six games on ABC during this year’s NBA Playoffs, the network’s ratings are up by 11% from last season. ESPN’s first round broadcasts averaged a 2.5 metered market rating, a 14% increase from 2017.