Sunday Feb 05, 2023

The NBA Finals Return to the Month of June — How High Will the TV Ratings Be For Warriors-Celtics?


That’s the famous line by the little blonde girl from “Poltergeist II”, a signal of the return of something ominous. It’s the line I immediately pondered as soon as the Golden State Warriors — a team I love to hate — took a 3-0 series lead over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.

It’s been three years since the last time the Warriors appeared in an NBA Finals, and for that one, they wound up on the short end, losing to the Toronto Raptors in six games. It marked the conclusion of a five-year streak of Golden State as the Western Conference representative in the Finals, where they earned three NBA titles — all against the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. After 2019, their two most important players — Klay Thompson and Steph Curry — went down for extensive lengths of time due to injuries. Two other key players from those title seasons — Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala — were traded (Iguodala rejoined Golden State in Aug. 2021). Despite new digs in downtown San Francisco, Golden State sank to near the bottom of the standings in 2020, and, in 2021, even with Curry back, they could not advance past the newly-installed play-In round.

But for 2022, the returns of a healthy Thompson and Curry alongside enforcer Draymond Green and worthy contributors Jordan Poole and former overall No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins have made the Warriors once again a solid force to be reckoned with.

If recent history is a marker, this year’s Finals opponents for Golden State will be anything but a pushover. They are the Boston Celtics, a team with a storied legacy, tied with the L.A. Lakers for the most NBA championships in league history (17).

At the start of the season, though, the Celtics were mired in mediocrity, with a 17-19 record by the time the Times Square Ball dropped to usher in 2022. But since, Boston has gone on a torrid run, having won 47 of their last 65 games.

Their postseason road through the Eastern Conference has been a revenge tour, of sorts. The Brooklyn Nets knocked them out of the first round in 2021; Boston returned the favor by sweeping Brooklyn out of the first round this year. They then defeated the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the second round — the same Bucks who knocked them out of the second round in 2019. And finally, in the Eastern Conference Finals, they overcame the Miami Heat in seven games — the very team who bested the Celtics in the pandemic-delayed 2020 ECF from Orlando, Fla.

Also “baaaaack!” are the NBA Finals themselves, in its regular month of June. The COVID pandemic greatly affected the NBA’s calendar over the past two years, with the two most recent Finals taking place in October 2020 and, due to the delayed start of the following season, July 2021. Both those series averaged less than 10 million viewers — a rarity only accomplished once prior, in 2007.

ABC is highly anticipating this month of June as it will also see the return of NHL’s Stanley Cup Final to its airwaves, which should get much promotion during the NBA Finals. At a time where broadcast television’s audience figures significantly erode each year, an event expected to draw double-digit millions of viewers for at least four nights is a huge plus for the medium. And especially for ABC. The last few times the network drew this size of viewership were for the NFL in January and “the slap seen ‘round the world” in late February.

All of the NBA’s TV partners are fortunate getting Golden State versus Boston for the championship. The six teams from the four major U.S. markets all stumbled at some point. Last season’s surprise contender New York Knicks fell back to earth in 2021-22. The LeBron-era Los Angeles Lakers (save for 2020) continued being an overall dud, and the Los Angeles Clippers could not win either of their two play-in games to qualify for the postseason. The Chicago Bulls vaulted to top of the East winning 27 of the season’s first 38 games but could only muster a No. 6 seed by season’s end, and thus, got bounced by Milwaukee in the first round. The Brooklyn Nets were supposed to vie for an NBA title but behind-the-scenes drama befell the troupe led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Their lack of cohesion led to the departure of guard James Harden, dealt to rival Philadelphia 76ers where they’d lose to Miami in the second round.

Entering the playoffs, the Phoenix Suns, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Miami Heat were among the top seeds of their respective conferences. Despite their recent success, all three have yet to achieve any marquee status for a national crowd.

The Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics are an easy sell to the casual fan of today. ABC is hopeful for a prolonged series, and I believe they’ll get one. The playoffs thus far has seen more blowouts than usual, but these NBA Finals should be far more competitive. It will go to six games, concluding with (sigh) the Warriors holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy, and a very potent 14.9 million viewers is in store.

I inquired with professionals in the media industry to provide their ratings prognostications for the 2022 NBA Finals. Here are their takes:

Michael Fliegelman, WFAN (New York) sports radio producer/host

A 7.3 [household rating] with 14 million viewers, with both series numbers boosted by a game 6 and possibly 7. I don’t see the series ending quickly. A GS/BOS game 7 would draw over 20 million viewers but I don’t think we’ll ever see an average near 20 [million] again.

Mark Cuban, “Shark Tank” entrepreneur/Dallas Mavericks owner

It’s Boston. 15 million.

Phillip Swann, TV Answer Man

I’ll take 16 million thanks to the glamour matchup of the Celtics and Warriors. The series should also be competitive and entertaining which could boost the final numbers to something higher.

Scott Nolte, Northwest Iowa Y100.1 FM (KUYY) deejay-sports announcer

18.1 million. 
I think this will be a highly watched final as both teams have big fan bases and historic franchises.

Andrew Marchand, New York Post sports media columnist and co-host of the Marchand & Ourand Sports Media Podcast

16.7 million. The ratings will see a bounce with a dynasty facing a legendary franchise.

Maury Brown, Forbes

Viewership has been strong for the all the playoff games this year, and I expect it to rebound nicely. Average viewership should be in the 16.5 million range.

Frank Isola, ESPN/SiriusXM NBA Radio host/Nets studio analyst for YES Network

7 [household] rating, 14 million [viewers]. Boston Celtics plus Steph Curry and the Warriors dynasty equals ratings.

Michael McCarthy, Senior Writer at Front Office Sports

Steph Curry and the Warriors are big box office. Their return to the big stage should drive a big increase in NBA Finals ratings.

Prediction: 15.7 million

Ryan Glasspiegel, New York Post sports/entertainment reporter

15.1 million – Reaches about where the NBA was at in 2019, but does not eclipse it.

Robert Seidman, SportsTVRatings.com

16.9 million — Higher if a 7 game series, lower if a sweep. The combination of teams plus out of home viewing will erase memories of record-low viewership for off-schedule finalsf the past 2 years and will even eclipse 2019. But declines in pay TV subscriptions and TV viewership more generally will keep it from surpassing 2018 unless the series goes 7 games and  there’s little chance of it reaching 2017 levels even if it goes 7.

Jay Posner, sports editor of San Diego Union-Tribune

16.8 million. I see a big rebound for ABC with two marquee teams (hopefully) playing a close series.

Dan Cohen, Senior Vice President of Octagon Sports and Entertainment Network

The NBA must be pleased with this year’s LeBron-less Finals featuring Steph Curry, and two very large DMAs. An interesting nugget: the recent Warriors NBA Finals appearances have never averaged less than 15m viewers.  While I do not predict the 2022 Finals will surpass GS’s most recent low watermark of 15.14m in 2019,  I do think this matchup will come very close and largely be determined by the # of games played.  Should the games get wrapped up in 4 or 5, we may see an average 13.8m.  However, should the games go to 6 or 7, I think we can expect an average of 15m.

Evan Boyd, Stats by STATS researcher

Golden State returning to the NBA Finals after such disarray over the last two years is a fascinating story, while Boston has not been to the NBA Finals since 2010. Both have great fanbases, and the series should go 6 or 7 games. I’ll say 18 million.

Ken Fang, Awful Announcing

As sports viewership is bouncing back in 2022, the NBA should see very good numbers for the Finals especially with two glamor franchises, the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics competing. 

With all of the games on ABC, the network should see a return in dominating viewership. For a series that should go six games, ABC will get an average rating of 9.7 for the games and an average viewership of 17.5 million.

The Finals will certainly do better than 2020 (which was delayed several months due to COVID) and 2021 (which was undercounted) and much better than the last pre-COVID Finals in 2019. 

Ian Casselberry, Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media

14 million. Golden State is a familiar, dynastic team, while the Celtics are a classic, traditional name (albeit with new faces on the national scene), creating a matchup that should attract viewers.

Chad Finn, Boston Globe sports media columnist

10.6 [household rating]/18.0 million [viewers]: The Warriors remain the most entertaining team in the league, while the Celtics are the most storied.

Lou D’Ermilio, LOUD Communications, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports media relations

A short series will average 12 million viewers, while a long series will come in at around 14 million. I’m not feeling a lot of casual buzz, but the return to June for the first time since 2019 will help, and we do have two strong, sizable markets represented.

Jason Jacobs, Northwest Iowa Campus Radio 103.9 (KUOO) deejay-sports announcer

These Finals will see a slight rise from a year ago like many big sports events have. If it goes to 7 games, it would obviously help the numbers. 11.4 milllion viewers.

Terence Henderson, T Dog Media

With Golden State back in the NBA Finals led by stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – not to mention a draw like the Boston Celtics, there will be a sharp increase in viewership from last year’s Finals. My prediction is 13.6 million viewers.

Jason Yellin, Strategic Communications Director at University of Maryland

9.5 [household rating] / 17 [million viewers]… Curry, Beantown = Boom

Richard Deitsch, sports media columnist at The Athletic and host of the Sports Media podcast

A great series for sports viewership nerds. Put me down for an average of 16 million viewers and I would not be surprised if my guess is low.

Jon Lewis, Sports Media Watch

I’m going with 16.0M for a six-game series. Well above the past two years, if below the norm of the 2010s. NBA viewership has quite clearly recovered from the anomalous levels of the past two years, but not back to where it was in 2018 and previous years.

Steve Kaplowitz, afternoon sports talk radio host at 600 ESPN El Paso (Texas)

10.3 million viewers. Despite the return of the Celtics, the 2022 NBA Playoffs have not been compelling and the viewership will be only slightly better than last year.

Patrick Crakes, Crakes Media Consulting, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports Senior Vice President Programming in Research & Content Strategy

I’ll go with 15.5 million viewers for 6 Games. As always, the devil in predicting events like the NBA Finals is getting the number of games right. If we get to a Game 7 I’ll predict it will push the series average above 16.9 million. Also, I’ll suggest that viewing from a possible Game 7 will give us insight into how much upside T1 sporting events have going forward .

To recap, here are the predictions in sorted order (you may click on their name for their respective analyses)





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