The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat both have 3-0 series leads in their respective conference finals series. Given that no team has come back from a 3-0 deficit in an NBA playoff series, it is incredibly likely that the Nuggets and Heat will meet in the NBA Finals, which has resulted in some concern about the TV ratings for the upcoming Finals. But are those concerns valid, and should anyone care about them? Here, we attempt to answer both of those questions.
Heat vs Nuggets NBA Finals Ratings Panic
Ever since the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat took decisive leads in their respective conference finals series, social media “personalities” have expressed concern for the television ratings of the NBA Finals. Some have joked that the series belongs on NBA TV, where less appealing playoff games have been placed in early rounds.
Devoted basketball fans are likely to salivate over a potential Heat vs Nuggets matchup, as two-time MVP Nikola Jokic would lead his team into a series against an insanely well-coached team with the indomitable Jimmy Butler on it. But would casual fans tune into a series between the Nuggets and Heat?
Is Ratings Concern Warranted?
When deciding whether or not the concern over NBA Finals television ratings is legitimate, there are a couple of factors at play. Those factors are the market sizes of the teams competing, and the ratings history of NBA Finals past. In both cases, there is no legitimate reason to worry about whether a lot of people will watch a series between the Heat and Nuggets.
Two Major Media Markets
Per Nielsen DMA ratings, Miami and Denver are two of the top-20 media markets in the United States today. While they are not as big as cities like New York or Los Angeles, who the league likely would have enjoyed seeing in the Finals more, many smaller markets have competed in the Finals with no adverse effects to the league. Just in the recent past, the following smaller markets have seen teams reach the NBA Finals:
- Milwaukee (#38)
- Toronto (not even in the United States)
- Cleveland (#19)
- San Antonio (#31)
- Oklahoma City (#46)
Previous NBA Finals Ratings
Looking at recent NBA Finals ratings, TV networks have very little to worry about even if the Heat and Nuggets do end up facing off for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Over the last five years, the average viewership for the NBA Finals has been as follows:
- 2022: Warriors vs Celtics – 12.4 million viewers per game
- 2021: Bucks vs Suns – 9.91 million viewers per game
- 2020: Lakers vs Heat – 7.45 million viewers per game
- 2019: Raptors vs Warriors – 15.14 million viewers per game
- 2018: Warriors vs Cavaliers – 17.56 million viewers per game
That 2020 number was the lowest in the history of the NBA Finals, though Americans had more to worry about during the COVID pandemic at that time. Either way, a lot of people are clearly going to watch the NBA Finals, so it may not be worthwhile to get worked up over the exact number.
Should I Care About NBA Finals Ratings?
More important than determining whether or not the ratings of this year’s NBA Finals are warranted, basketball fans should determine whether or not they should care about television ratings for the NBA Finals. Unless you work in sports or sports media, the answer will typically be that you have no reason to care about television ratings for this event! Here are a few reasons that these ratings simply shouldn’t matter to you in the majority of cases.
This Isn’t Regular Television
Television ratings can be important in many genres of television. After all, the higher rated a program, the more television companies can justify charging for advertising on those programs, and the more money a broadcaster can make as a result. But unlike scripted television, where broadcast entities can simply pull the plug on a show and try to find a new one to make them more money, the NBA and sports in general play by different rules.
Sports programming dominates television in the United States, with 96 of the top-100 telecasts in 2022 being sports broadcasts. Even a “poorly performing” NBA Finals from a ratings perspective will be better than Judge Steve Harvey, or a reboot of some 1980s game show on ABC in those time slots. If some casual fans don’t want to watch what should be an entertaining series, the NBA isn’t going to get thrown off television, as broadcasters like TNT would just swoop in to air the Finals if ABC decided they’d prefer to air something in its place.
Just Enjoy the Games
More important than the fact that airing the NBA Finals is good business regardless of ratings is that basketball fans should just enjoy the basketball! An NBA Finals between the Nuggets and Heat would be terrific, as we would see how one of the best coaches in the NBA schemed to stop two of the toughest players to defend in basketball in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. There is also animosity between these two franchises from last year, as the decision by Nikola Jokic to shove a Morris twin created some hostility that could creep into things.
The NBA Finals are the most fun time to be a basketball fan, as the two best teams in the league play seven games to define their legacies. Spending that time worrying about television ratings that do not impact you is a waste of your time.
Enjoy the Finals.