2024 NBA Finals underperform as Celtics win 18th title

The Mavericks lost to the Celtics in five games. (Image: WCVB)

Celtics win in five in a truly awful series

If one were to measure the excitement of the 2024 NBA Finals, it would be right between reruns of “Joanie Loves Chachi” and a White Sox game. 

But that’s where we are, and the matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics was one to forget from a competitive and broadcast production standpoint.

According to Nielsen, the series averaged 11.31 million viewers in five games – down three percent from last year’s Miami Heat-Denver Nuggets series, which also went five games. Excluding 2020 and 2021 – both affected by Covid, it was the least-watched NBA Finals since 2007, when the San Antonio Spurs swept a LeBron James-led Clevland Cavaliers team in four. Game five did draw 12.2 million, peaking at 13.28 million when the Celtics clinched the title in anticlimactic fashion. 

The average underperformed the 12.2 million I predicted on Programming Insider. 

The series was not competitive by any means, with the final scores averaging northward of ten points per game. Even game four saw a blowout, with the Celtics on the receiving end of a lopsided tally, and not surprisingly, the least-watched of the five games

The 2024 NBA Playoffs were clearly a bust, with 4.53 million viewers – down 12 percent from last year. 

Many viewers on social media blasted the series, saying it was the worst NBA Finals ever – never mind engagement was probably driven by pissed-off Lakers fans because their arch-rivals on the other coast passed their team for most championships of all time (given most NBA fans don’t give a shit about this overhyped, stupid rivalry – only the NBA can have two “rivals” 3,000 miles apart.) 

If this series was asinine, then ESPN’s coverage of the Finals was even more so. Much of the coverage was absolutely awful, complete with Stephen A. Smith screaming against the Mavericks during a halftime show – that is, when the halftime show didn’t last all of 45 seconds. The only bright side is at least John Schriffen wasn’t on the broadcast team. 

And speaking of ads, just as equally as bad were those dumb ESPN-custom commercials for the Bad Boys: Ride Or Die movie, with former Chicago Bull and current Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler showing up and saying “I want to be a Bad Boy!” – maybe he ought to hang out with Crockett and Tubbs instead. Other ad atrocities included dumb AT&T commercials with awful rock music and a few pharma ads, making a horrible NBA Finals viewing experience even more unbearable. 

The NBA Finals’ woes come as the league is still in negotiations for a new TV deal, which is taking seemingly forever. ESPN/ABC is expected to maintain its “A” package with NBC and Peacock likely getting a second package of games for $2.8 billion a year. Amazon is expected to receive a significant amount of games in another package. The odd man out is Warner Bros. Discovery, whose chairman David Zaslav said earlier his networks “didn’t need the NBA”, one of many blunders he made since taking the job.

In the meantime, the Bulls, who have not been in the NBA Finals since 1998, will have a new local home next season with the new Chicago Sports Network. No other details have been announced yet, other than a vague press release.

With the league looking to score $76 billion worth of new TV deals, the current product isn’t worth the money. But despite the NBA Finals ratings fail, live sports is still in high demand as it is the only form of television currently guaranteed to draw viewers – something advertisers and marketers crave. So fans are left with a mediocre product with Stephen A. screaming like he’s Morton Downey Jr. and State Farm guys showing up unexpectedly at your house. Like a bad neighbor, the NBA will be there with their bad Bulls teams and inane Play-In Tournaments – whether we like it or not. 


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