Based on overnight ratings, U.S. television viewership dipped for the first NBA Finals game without LeBron James since 2010, but numbers from Canada and the promise of a competitive series have the NBA as confident as ever in its popularity.
The Toronto Raptors’ 118-109 victory against the Golden State Warriors in the opener of their championship series drew a 10.1 overnight rating, which is an 18 percent decline from the same game last season and a 19 percent drop from 2017. Both of those series featured LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers, a massive TV draw.
Nielsen’s overnight rating, which does not include Canadian viewers, marks the lowest Game 1 result since the 2009 Finals between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, and the lowest for any Finals contest since Game 3 between the San Antonio Spurs and LeBron’s Miami Heat in 2013, per Sports Media Watch.
However, Thursday’s game — the first Finals contest held north of the U.S. border — marked the most-watched NBA game ever in Canada, drawing an average of 3.5 million viewers to Sportsnet and RDS, the country’s French language sports station, according to numbers provided by the league to Yahoo Sports.
That blew away the previous record of 3.1 million viewers, set in Toronto’s closeout Game 6 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks in the last round. That number represented more than a third of all Canadians watching TV at the time of the game.
Add those 3.5 million viewers from Game 1, which are exponentially higher than the Canadian viewership for last year’s Toronto-less Finals (closer to the hundreds of thousand per game), and the North American ratings are comparable year to year.
The NBA might be quick to remind you that the 10.1 overnight rating in the U.S. is still a massive number, bigger than the “Game of Thrones” series finale. Viewership from the conference finals and the playoffs as a whole is up slightly from 2017, per the league, and NBA games represent 24 of the 25 most-watched telecasts on ad-supported cable during the playoffs, with the NFL draft as the lone competitor.
The sky is not falling in terms of NBA viewership, especially when you consider the decline in television viewership as a whole and the increase in the number of ways NBA fans consume content in recent years. And the possibility that Toronto’s win on Thursday forebodes a long series will only build momentum for bigger numbers.
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