Go ahead and fret about competitive balance all you want, for the casual fans super teams sell.
A lot of sports fans may have been surprised they were tuning in to root f0r LeBron James and the Cavaliers to beat the stacked Warriors with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry — but they were tuning in. A lot of them.
Monday night’s Game 5 was the most-watched NBA Finals Game 5 since 1998 — Michael Jordan’s final year with the Bulls, according to ABC. The entire series matched that pace, it was the most watched series since 1998. From the official press release:
The five-game series averaged a total live audience (television plus streaming) of 20,840,000 average viewers, up from 20,578,000 viewers for last year’s seven-game series. On television, the series averaged 20,406,000 plus an average minute streaming audience of 434,000 viewers. Monday’s Game 5 broadcast on ABC generated a total live audience of more than 25,003,000 average viewers, making it the most-watched Game 5 since 1998.
Yes, they are counting streaming numbers, as they should. Those are eyeballs on the game (and the ads) just in a different format, and every sport is feeling the pinch of streaming siphoning off younger viewers who would have previously had to sit in front of a television. The bottom line is they were watching, which is what’s being counted.
The NBA has always been its most popular when there were dominant teams, and when its biggest stars are on its biggest stage. Parity is not what sells the NBA, stars do. LeBron, Durant, and Curry are arguably the three biggest basketball stars on the planet (certainly three of the top five). The NBA needs to be concerned with local ratings during the season, but dominant teams being good for the NBA has always been the story. And it continues.