Ratings from Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals are back on the upswing. It is definitely a positive for the NBA after seeing historic lows in ratings across the board last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, fans watched the Phoenix Suns head home with a 118-105 Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. According to the same-day ratings from Nielsen, the ABC broadcast of the game averaged 8.56 million viewers. That number is up from the 7.68 million that was reported earlier. And in the key ad demographic of adults ages 18-49, the game scored a 2.86 rating. That figure was even with last year’s finals.
But where this year and last year differentiate is in the total viewership. Tuesday’s Game 1 between Phoenix and Milwaukee was up 15 percent compared to last year’s TV-only audience. Last year, we saw a historic low of 7.41 million viewers for an NBA Finals Game 1.
Closer Look Into the NBA Finals Ratings
Taking a closer look, there are a few different reasons as to why this year’s NBA Finals outperformed last year. Firstly, the most obvious reason, is that the NBA season was being played in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Games were being played in “the bubble” in Orlando, Florida. Not to mention, all of the games were being played without fans. That in itself takes out a lot of the excitement.
More than that, however, the 2020 NBA Finals was pushed back to the fall last year. Therefore, they were forced to compete with views with Sunday Night Football, the MLB, the NHL Playoffs, and college football. Many basketball fans also quit watching NBA broadcasts amid complaints that the league was getting “too political.” All of that combined definitely contributed to a drastic loss in viewership.
Back in May, Austin Karp of the Sports Business Journal reported that the end-of-season ratings were still down double digits.
“NBA viewership is down 13% headed into last week of the season (TNT, ABC, and ESPN compared to 2019-2020 regular season),” Karp wrote on Twitter.
Fans replied giving their own thoughts as to why ratings were down. One fan says that it’s not as appealing to watch when star players sit out to protect themselves for the playoffs.
“Can’t sell the fan the regular season matters when all the Big Stars are sitting out protecting themselves for playoffs. If you turned on NFL games and instead of getting Rodgers, Lamar, Mahomes, Etc under center you got back QBs. See how fast NFL numbers drop. Playing matters!”
Chris Paul Shines in Game 1
Another reason that this year’s Game 1 is seeing an increase in viewership could be thanks to Chris Paul. It took the Phoenix Suns point guard 16 seasons to make it to the NBA Finals but he certainly didn’t disappoint in his debut. Paul shined on the NBA’s brightest stage. He led the Suns to a Game 1 victory thanks to his 32 points and nine assists.