Only Michael Jordan tops LeBron James when it comes to NBA Finals television ratings since 1998.
According to Nielsen, the 2015 NBA Finals averaged 19.939 million viewers over the six games series, which featured a brilliant and deep Golden State team overcoming James’s superhuman performance for Cleveland. Most impressively, the viewership average was the highest since the 1998 NBA Finals when an average of 29.040 million viewers watched Jordan and Co. defeat the Jazz over six games. The final game of this year’s series, Golden State’s 105-97 Game 6 win on Tuesday night, drew 23.25 million viewers and peaked at 28.744 million from 11:45 p.m. to midnight.
This year’s NBA Finals viewership numbers were significantly up over last year’s five-game series (15.5 million viewers for Spurs-Heat) and the 2013 Finals (17.7 million), which saw the Heat beat the Spurs in six games. ESPN said the Warriors-Cavs series was the most-watched and highest-rated ever on ABC (a series dating back to 2002). The series averaged an 11.6 U.S. household rating, up 30% from the 2014 NBA Finals.
Not surprisingly, Cleveland and San Francisco were the top-rated local TV markets. Game Six generated a 42.0 rating in the Cleveland market while the game did a 40.7, rating in San Francisco, which is the highest-rated NBA game ever in that market as far as records go back (2002).
ESPN said the 2015 NBA Finals was the most-viewed ever on WatchESPN. The series averaged 757,000 unique viewers, which was up 102% from last year. NBA Countdown, the NBA Finals pre-game show, averaged just under 5.5 million viewers over the six games, up 21% over 2014.
The top 10 markets and household ratings numbers for the series:
1. Cleveland (43.7)
2. San Francisco (32.8)
3. Columbus (23.4)
4. Memphis (19.5)
5. Sacramento (18.9)
6. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (17.7)
7. Norfolk (17.2)
8. Atlanta (16.6)
T9. San Antonio (15.4)
T9. Richmond-Petersburg (15.4)
This year’s NBA Finals would have likely drawn even higher numbers if not for competing against the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday night, which featured the U.S. National Team’s 1-0 win over Nigeria. That game aired on FOX and kicked off about an hour before the NBA game. The U.S. win drew 5.0 million viewers, making it the most-watched soccer match ever on FOX and breaking the previous mark set last Friday for USA-Sweden (4.5 million). The U.S.-Nigeria match is now the third most-watched women’s soccer match of all time, behind only the USA-China 1999 Women’s World Cup Final (17,975,000) and the Japan-USA 2011 Women’s World Cup Final (13,458,000).
Fox said the three U.S. WWC games averaged 4.3 million viewers between Fox and Fox Sports 1, up 207 percent over the 1.4 million viewers the three US Group Stage games averaged in 2011 on ESPN.