Will the Lakers Absence Kill NBA Finals Ratings?


Conventional wisdom says that with the elimination of the Los Angeles Lakers by Dallas, the NBA Finals ratings are in trouble.

History indicates that conventional wisdom has a point.

The Lakers appeared in the NBA Finals in 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2010 against Detroit, Orlando and Boston (twice). In those years the NBA Finals ratings averaged about a 10, meaning about 10 percent of all U.S. televisions were tuned into those games.

In 2003, 2006 and 2007 the Lakers failed to make the NBA Finals, and the ratings earned by matchups featuring San Antonio vs. New Jersey, Miami vs. Dallas, and San Antonio vs. Cleveland averaged about a seven, meaning only about seven percent of U.S. televisions were tuned into those games.

By earning a 10.6 rating last year, the Lakers-Celtics championship series had about 18 million people watching. If this year follows the form of recent years, only about 12.6 million people will watch. That means a lot fewer cars and a lot less beer will be sold to the largely male audience expected to tune in.

The Western Conference will be represented by Dallas, Memphis, or Oklahoma City.  Dallas is the number five U.S. television market, while Oklahoma City is the number 45 TV market and Memphis is number 47. That is why visitors to ABC and ESPN headquarters this month might see executives wearing Mavericks gear.

Chicago, Atlanta and Miami are still standing in the Eastern Conference. Chicago is the number three market, Atlanta is eight and Miami is 16. Some would argue that as long as Dallas comes out of the west, there is reasonable hope for decent ratings. Sports Media Watch, a journal dedicated to covering how sports and media affect each other and make money together, is making that case.

“The Bulls hail from the nation’s #3 market, and boast league MVP Derrick Rose…The Heat, of course, moved the needle during the regular season like no other team in recent memory, and the media coverage of stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was the rising tide that lifted — as David Stern would call it — the ‘oceanliner’ that is the league.

“In the West, no team can match the Lakers’ drawing power. However, the remaining teams may not be terrible for ratings. The Mavericks hail from the nation’s #5 market, and their appearance in the 2006 NBA Finals ranks as the second-highest rated non-Laker Finals since the lockout (8.5). The Thunder have one of the bright young stars in the league in Kevin Durant, currently an object of infatuation for the famously fickle sports media — at least until they inevitably turn on him a few years from now. Memphis is the weakest draw of the remaining West teams, but as the unlikely #8 seed, they figure to induce at least a raised eyebrow from a few casual fans. With an opponent like Miami, or to a lesser extent, Chicago…the Mavericks, Thunder and Grizzlies do not figure to be a drain on the (NBA Finals) ratings.”

According to Sports Media Watch, if all goes well the NBA Finals ratings might score something in the eight range, representing only a 20 percent drop off from last year. According to Regal, if a 20 percent drop is now the best the league can hope for, then the NBA remains overly dependent on the success of one team.

Hirsch is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

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