A Game 7 between the Lakers and Celtics is usually a slam dunk when it comes to ratings, and Thursday night's matchup was no exception.
About 28.2 million people watched the Lakers take Game 7, 83-79, and march off with the team's 16th championship, according to the Nielsen ratings service. It was the biggest audience to watch a deciding game since 35.9 million tuned in to watch Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in 1998.
For the entire Lakers-Celtics series, the average audience was 18.1 million people.
Locally, 4.3 million people watched game seven on KABC-TV Los Angeles. But those numbers do not include the tens of thousands of viewers who went to their local watering holes to watch the game. Overall, KABC averaged 2.8 million viewers for its coverage of the Lakers-Celtics series.
Although Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, which aired the games, and ESPN, which produced them, have plenty to celebrate, this year's NBA Finals was a dream match. The Lakers and Celtics are longtime rivals and both teams have huge national followings. In contrast, last year's NBA Finals between the Lakers and Orlando Magic averaged 14.3 million viewers.
"In this day and age when audiences are so fragmented … we were very pleased with the way the numbers turned out," said Doug White, ESPN's senior director of programming.
While a Lakers-Celtics game is a big draw anytime, it doesn't hurt that the NBA Finals typically take place when the broadcast networks and many cable channels are in reruns. The World Series and NFL playoffs and championship take place in a more competitive time of year. Last year's World Series between the Yankees and Phillies averaged 19.4 million viewers.
Disney pays about $500 million annually for the rights to telecast NBA games, while Time Warner's TNT shells out roughly $400 million. Both those rights deals expire after the 2015-16 season. That the series went the full seven games helped Disney's bottom line. The longer a series runs, the more advertising revenue the network accumulates.
"It was a very successful season for us from a financial standpoint," ESPN's White said.