HOLLYWOOD — NBC is off to a great start with the NBA Finals as Wednesday’s overtime thriller produced strong ratings and helped set the stage for a potentially competitive series.
According to Nielsen, the opening-game upset victory by the Philadelphia 76ers over the Los Angeles Lakers attracted an average of 18.58 million viewers and an 8.8 rating/26 share in adults 18-49 — gains of 21% and 33% respectively vs. last year’s Game 1 between the Lakers and Indiana Pacers (15.34m, 6.6/19). In adult male demos, the year-to-year improvements ranged from 34% to 38%.
By virtually all measures, including households (12.4/23), it’s the highest-rated NBA Finals opener since another overtime contest in 1998 (Chicago-Utah in Michael Jordan’s final season).
For comparison’s sake, Wednesday’s Game 1 adults 18-49 rating tops five of last season’s six NBA Finals contests and all five of October’s World Series games on Fox.
After the defending champion Lakers breezed through the first three rounds of this year’s playoffs — and were bidding to become the first team ever to go undefeated in postseason play — NBC was looking at potentially all-time low ratings. But now that some drama has been tossed into a mix that includes league stars Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as big markets Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the potential exists for even bigger ratings the rest of the way.
The network won’t begin to show a profit on the series until a sixth game, but that’s something that looks much more likely after Wednesday’s opener.
Los Angeles gave the game a 32.9 household rating and 51 share, while Philadelphia netted a 41.0/60. Combined, the second and fourth-largest markets in the country account for nearly 8% of U.S. households.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played tonight in Los Angeles, with action moving to Philadelphia on Sunday night.
Prior to the finals, NBC was averaging 7.05 million viewers for its 30 NBA playoff games this season, a decline of 10% vs. a year ago.