NBC’s Bull market

Huge Game 6 lifts NBA Finals to ratings record

NBC has clinched a record NBA Finals rating with a soaring sixth-game overnight score that may also translate to the top single-game rating in league history when national results are released by A.C. Nielsen today. Sunday’s series-clinching, down-to-the-wire victory by the Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz has achieved a 23.0 rating, 36 share in the 39 markets metered by Nielsen. That gives the Game 6 national rating a decent shot at topping the current single-game NBA national record, the 21.2/37 earned by game seven of the Lakers-Detroit series 10 years ago.

Sunday’s national result also easily will be enough to boost the average rating for this year’s six-game series ahead of the previous record for an entire finals, established in 1993 when Chicago’s Game 6 victory over Phoenix scored an 18.0/33.

Friday frolic

Friday’s Game 5 Jazz victory has earned a national 19.8/37, tying it for the fourth-highest NBA rating ever (before Sunday’s national rating comes in, which will push Friday’s result to a tie for fifth place). That big Friday tally brings the series’ five-game average up to an 18.0/32, which ties the previous-record 18.0/33, and Sunday’s results definitely will push this year’s average ahead of the record.

It’s interesting to note that Friday’s national rating represents 96% of its overnight average (20.6/36), and if that ratio were to hold for Sunday’s game six, a 22.1 rating would result and the single-game record (21.2) would fall. But last year’s Game 6 generated a 92% ratio between nationals and overnights, which would be good enough to tie the record 21.2 when applied to Sunday’s overnights.

Jolt of Jordan

This year’s series has benefited from the presence of Michael Jordan, who’s now been the star attraction in 13 of the 17 highest-rated hoopcasts in NBA history. Adding to Jordan’s marquee value this year has been the possibility that he may retire in the off-season, depending on front-office moves by Bulls management.

And capping it all off, the Bulls got rating momentum rolling headed into the finals by struggling in the semis before finishing off the feisty Indiana Pacers in seven games. The decider of that series attracted a 19.1/33, breaking the NBA’s previous record for top-rated nonfinals telecast by nearly three rating points.

No 7th heaven

NBC still doesn’t get to find out how high it could go with an NBA Finals seventh game involving Jordan and the Bulls. In six trips to the finals, the Bulls have never been taken to the limit by any opponent or otherwise faced elimination, winning five times in six games and once in five games.

The steady stream of historic Nielsens this post-season reminds the NBA that, despite the record rights fees being paid by the cable and broadcast outlets who’ll be carrying the NBA in future seasons, ratings declines are a near-certainty when and if Jordan retires or the Bulls fade back into the pack.

Place in history

Friday’s national rating ranks lower than just three previous telecasts in NBA history: the 1988 L.A.-Detroit game seven (21.2/37), the 1993 Chicago-Phoenix game six (20.3/39) and the 1997 Chicago-Utah game five (20.1/35) and ties with one: the 1993 Chicago-Phoenix game 4 (19.8/35).

The Friday Jazz victory earned a 49 share among men 18-49 and a 53 among men 18-34. In adults 18-49, the game earned a 43 share, helping NBC beat the nightlong ABC-CBS-Fox competition (with an 8-11 p.m. 31 share vs. the competition’s combined 25).

Each household rating point represents an estimated 980,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it’s measured against only the homes in which TV is being watched during the timeslot involved.