The NBA Finals opened to a slightly larger TV audience than they did in 2020, continuing the league’s postseason uptick. Ratings for Tuesday’s broadcast, however, are still well behind
ABC’s telecast of game 1 between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks averaged 7.68 million viewers in time zone-adjusted fast national ratings from Nielsen. That figure will likely rise a bit more in the final numbers (due Thursday morning), which will include out of home viewing.
As it stands now, the game is up about 4 percent from last year, which attracted an all-time low of 7.41 million viewers for an NBA Finals opener (streaming pushed the total to 7.58 million, still below Tuesday’s tally). The 2020 Finals, played in a fan-free bubble in Orlando, began on Sept. 30, nearly four months after their usual place on the calendar.
Tuesday’s game — which comes about a month after the league’s usual early June berth for the Finals — is off by 43 percent compared to game 1 of the 2019 series between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors (13.51 million viewers).
This year’s series is the first NBA Finals since 2010 to feature neither LeBron James nor Stephen Curry, two of the league’s best known stars. Phoenix is the 11th largest media market in the United States, while Milwaukee ranks 37th.
The improvement for the first game of the Finals follows sizable ratings increases for the earlier rounds of the NBA playoffs. Through the conference finals, playoff contests improved by 35 percent over 2020 to 3.7 million viewers on ESPN/ABC, TNT and NBA TV.
NBC’s America’s Got Talent was the most watched show other than the NBA telecast, drawing just under 6.9 million viewers (pending adjustments in the final ratings).