Who knew the league's self-described 'greatest rivalry' would become nothing more than a minor blip on the televisions of Americans? It appears that the NBA Finals has been reduced to maybe-see TV.
Game 2 of the NBA Finals delivered a 6.4/10 for ABC at 9 p.m. CBS dropped one spot to second with "Cold Case," 5.5/9. "Dateline" pulled down a 4.7/8 for NBC, while "Family Guy" and "American Dad" averaged 3.2/5 for FOX. The CW aired reruns of "The Game" and "Girlfriends."
The Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers game improved to 6.9/12 at 10 p.m. "Dateline" jumped up to a 6.2/10, moving NBC ahead of CBS and "The Unit," 3.0/5.
Competing with "Dateline." On a Sunday night?!? Wow, that's pretty lousy for a league that renewed its TV contract last year for $7.44 billion through '08-16. The current deal was scheduled to run out this season, but ESPN/ABC/TNT forged an agreement for another eight years. In future seasons, the NBA will receive about $930 million a year for NBA broadcasts.
Compare that to the $3.735 billion per year that the networks currently pay the NFL. Considering that Super Bowl XLII netted gigantic ratings with a 43.3, and 97.5 million viewers, well, that's money well spent. In order for the NBA Finals to net that same kind of value, the Finals broadcasts would almost have to double their total number of viewers in the upcoming years.
The last Super Bowl made for one of the most-watched events in the history of television, so we can't blame the NBA's ratings decline on expansion of television channels and choices. Nobody's asking the NBA to net almost 1 billion viewers each night, either. For future amounts the networks will pay the NBA, however, one would have to hope for far more than 13 million viewers. This isn't a good start.
What about Game 1?
Game 1 of the NBA Finals, featuring the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, drew a 6.6/11 at 9 p.m. but "So You Think You Can Dance," 6.0/10, led the hour in total viewers. A second "CSI" put CBS in third. "Last Comic Standing" improved a little to 3.4/6. The CW held steady with a "Supernatural" repeat.
At 10 p.m., the Celtics-Lakers game rose to 6.9/12, a sizable improvement over last year's low-rated Game 1. The premiere of "Swingtown" drew a 6.0/10 for CBS, while on NBC the debut of "Fear Itself" came in at 3.5/6.
We're not talking a ratings beast in the slightest.
There is hope for King Stern . . . if the series pushes toward the maximum number of games, the later games in the series, Games 5-7, increase in ratings. However, if it's as cheap as the first two games, with stunts such as Paul Pierce's histrionics, then I can't expect a ratings monster to emerge.
Previous installments of this 'legendary' series netted ratings in the double-digits, easily. 1987 was the last time the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals. The average rating for that series was 15.9. Even if this current series averages out into the double-digits, it looks like it won't touch the previous heights.
The NBA remains very ill, and there's nothing David Stern can blame to bring his cherished casual fans back to the television. It isn't the sport that stinks, it's the NBA and its league office.
This is, of course, horrible news for that office, since the outlook prior to Game 1's tip-off filled itself with great expectation.
The stakes are equally high for ABC/ESPN; the networks, along with TNT, renewed their pro hoops contract last year for a deal that will run through 2015-16 at a reported cost of $7.6 billion.
Some forecasts estimate the household rating for the finals between a 10 and 12, depending on how close the games are and how long the series goes. If it hits the high end of that range -- a result execs say is plausible given the ratings rebound during the regular season -- it would mark the best number since the Lakers-Philadelphia 76ers series of 2001 (12.1) though still well shy of the midteen numbers the '90s Bulls and '80s Lakers series regularly generated. (The 1987 Lakers-Celtics Finals, for instance, averaged a 16.7 household rating.)
So, what could people possibly expect to improve in the next games? I don't know. I won't be watching it on television, for the first time in years. Maybe I'll check a box score, or have the game update itself over the internet while I do something else, even though I have opportunity to watch the event on TV. Why would I feel this way?
I'd love to just breathe basketball at this time of year. I love basketball, and it's always been one of my most favorite sports. Unfortunately, in the last several years, I've grown to hate the current commissioner and the league that he meddles. The PR Nightmare of the Seattle SuperSonics looms over the sport, despite what ESPN would lightly report. Also, David would like to sweep Tim Donaghy under the carpet, but the reality of an official being compromised in countless games over years makes for a critical hit to credibility.
The NBA hit an all-time low in ratings for the 2007 NBA Finals. This season's installment appears to make for that as the trend. The Finals failed to draw supreme ratings with its brightest young superstar, LeBron James. It fails to draw ratings the next season with its 'greatest rivalry,' Lakers vs. Celtics. Something has to be done, David, beyond the silly concerns of the game's start time as the culprit. What more deceptions, spins, and excuses can I expect from a little man behind the curtain? David's buffoonery, deceit, and illogical reasoning are quite common.
Just remember, David doesn't want you to be such an American. Unfortunately, the league is incorporated in the United States. Maybe King David's the biggest problem the NBA faces.