Golden State Warriors opened as 1/10 favorites to win the title against the Cleveland Cavaliers. As Vegas often correctly predicts, the 2018 NBA Finals was arguably one of the worst finals to date; But, TV ratings weren’t nearly as bad as you would expect. Friday’s Game 4 that sealed the sweep drew an 11.2 overnight metered market rating on ABC, which was the lowest for any NBA Finals game during the four-year matchup featuring the Cavs-Warriors. Yet, overall, the four-game 2018 NBA Finals averaged 12.2 ratings, an uptick of 7% over ABC’s traditional average for the NBA championship series.
Taking all things into consideration, how were 18 million people on average tuning in to watch a catastrophe of an NBA Finals? An interesting Nielsen article I came across put things into perspective AND explained the “riches of a rivalry”. TV viewership for this year’s NBA Finals had nothing to do with good basketball; it was about identifying with a team and/or a player. Both teams have experienced a SERIOUS fan base growth of several million people since 2014 (see chart below).
As fan bases and loyalty to specific teams grows, people naturally become die-hard fans of individual players. For this NBA series, Nielsen’s N-score reveals two of the crowd favorites, Lebron James and Stephen Curry (surprise!). Nielsen uses the N-Score talent tracker which “quantifies fan perceptions of athletes, actors, musicians, etc.” Since 2014, James’ N-Score has risen by 4 points, and Curry’s has gone up by 10 points. This season, just one point separates them (76 and 75, respectively).” N-Score values range from 1-100. James and Curry are the first and second ranked NBA players by N-Score. The below graph depicts some other attributions Nielsen records for fan perception.
So, from a competitive perspective it wasn’t the most entertaining finals we have seen; but, viewership and fan engagement still proved to be very high. Fans love identifying with their favorite teams/players, and more importantly, feeling a part of the basketball community.