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NBA Finals viewership bounces back from pandemic years, but below Warriors' last appearance

By Austin Karp
Warriors-Celtics is up 25% from last year’s Bucks-Suns series and up 66% from the bubble format Lakers-Heat series in '20Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Finals averaged 12.4 million viewers for six games on ABC and ESPN2, bouncing back from two COVID-influenced championship rounds the last two years, but not at the level seen in years before the pandemic. Warriors-Celtics is up 25% from last year’s Bucks-Suns series, which aired in July just on ABC, and up 66% from the all-time-low 7.5 million viewers for Lakers-Heat in '20, which aired in October from the Disney World bubble. But ignoring the two COVID-impacted seasons, Warriors-Celtics is the least watched NBA Finals since the Spurs’ sweep of the Cavaliers in '07 (9.3 million). The '22 NBA Finals is down 18% from 15 million viewers for the Raptors-Warriors series in '19, and those telecasts did not have figures from any Canadian markets factored into the average. The best figure among the Warriors’ six NBA Finals appearances over the last eight years was the seven-game set against the Cavs in '16, which averaged 20.2 million.

The clinching Game 6 on Thursday night averaged just under 14 million viewers, up from 12.5 million for Bucks-Suns Game 6 in '21, and up from 8.3 million for Lakers-Heat Game 6 in '20. But the game was down from 18.3 million for the clinching Game 6 in '19. Warriors-Celtics Game 6 easily delivered ABC a prime-time win among all networks. While Warriors-Celtics was well below the average for many of those matchups before the pandemic, the NBA Finals averaged its highest share of the U.S. TV audience in five years. What does that mean? The overall TV-watching audience continues to decline -- whether its news, sports or entertainment programming. But among the remaining U.S. audience, sports is getting a bigger piece of the pie. It means a property like the NBA Finals has a better share of what remains of that U.S. TV audience vs. what it had five years ago. Something important as the league pitches to advertisers and eventually to media outlets ahead of the next rights pact.

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