NBA Finals see decline in the U.S., but sets records in Canada

Toronto Raptors clinch title, but ratings down as expected south of the 49th parallel

T Dog Media nearly hits viewership projection on target

The Toronto Raptors clinched their first NBA title last week, but for ABC and ESPN, they weren’t exactly celebrating.

But in Canada, Bell and Rogers were popping champagne corks and partying with the Raptors.

Nielsen ratings show this year’s 2019 NBA Finals matchup between the Raptors and defending champion Golden State Warriors were the least-watched in ten years. The six-game series drew 15.14 million viewers, down 19 percent from last year’s 17.6 million for a four-game sweep with the Warriors beating the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James (LeBron is now in the Warriors’ division, playing for the arch-rival Lakers.)

In fact, T Dog Media predicted 15.5 million for the entire series and missed the viewership target by 400,000 viewers (Wow!)

One highlight was the strong showing both Game 5 and Game 6 earned for ABC. Game 5 – the one where Warriors star Kevin Durant returned from injury only to get injured again, drew nearly eighteen million viewers while the Raptors’ clincher drew 18.34 million viewers. But both were down from the last time the game went six

North of the border, it was a entirely different ratings story.

Game six of the series drew a total of 7.7 million viewers combined over Bell Media’s TSN, CTV, CTV2, and RDS; and Rogers’ SportsNet and CityTV, setting records for the most-watched basketball telecasts in Canadian history. As documented here earlier, the Raptors’ television rights were split between the two Canadian conglomerates as both have an ownership stake in the team. This, the rights are split between TSN and SportsNet; each aired three games of the NBA Finals. To reach more viewers, both Bell and Rogers’ decided to simulcast the games on their over_the-air counterparts, CityTV and CTV/CTV 2 respectively (CityTV is the original CITY-TV, Channel 57 in Toronto.)

Viewership grew a remarkable 133 percent throughout the series for Bell and Rogers, averaging 5.13 million viewers for the entire series.

Even though a lot was made about having a Canadian team in the Finals (Nielsen does not measure TV ratings in Canada), the end result wasn’t as bad as many were predicting. Chalk up the numbers due to the loyal viewership the NBA has generated as fans tuned in, no matter who is playing. This certainly wasn’t the case when the Toronto Blue Jays were in the World Series in 1992 and 1993, hurting CBS’ ability to draw decent ratings for the matchups against the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.

But keep in mind both series drew numbers north of 25 million, outdrawing most World Series of the last fifteen years (with the notable exceptions of 2004 and 2016, of course) including the White Sox’s sweep over the Houston Astros in 2005, which was even more derided by ratings analysts than the Blue Jays’ championships.


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