The Finals will have to be long and competitive to top last year's viewer average
When the NBA Finals tip-off on Thursday, the Miami Heat-San Antonio Spurs series will feature the first consecutive league championship rematch since the 1997-1998 season. ABC hopes that the added intrigue may help make up for the fact that it is a showdown between the No. 16 and No. 36 TV markets, respectively.
Despite a less-than-ideal matchup, last year's series averaged 10.5 million total viewers per game, a number bolstered by virtue of going seven games, with Ray Allen providing a classic finish to Game 6. The series topped 2012 (10.1 million) and 2011's (10.2 million) Finals, both which featured the Miami Heat — neither of those series went seven games.
In 2010, a seven-game series between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers earned 10.6 million viewers on average. ABC would kill for those markets right now, but it hopes to settle for a competitive full-length series.
“It's part of the industry… you pay attention to the matchups.” ESPN's “NBA Countdown” host Sage Steele told TheWrap. “At the end of the day, you can't control it.”
Despite the lackluster markets, the rare rematch “helps tremendously,” Steele said. Plus, the dichotomy between the two teams’ distinct personalities is “perfect,” she added: “You've got the sexy, more flamboyant team from South Beach” and the “boring, blue collar Spurs.”
And there is the undeniable LeBron James factor. “Look at what we're watching,” Steele told TheWrap. “We're watching history and we're watching one of the greatest players in history in his prime.”
On the other side of the scorer's table, we're watching three great players (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili) in the twilight of their careers being led by one of the best coaches ever, Gregg Popovich.
James will command a ton of airtime for Steele and the “Countdown” gang. Some viewers may find that annoying, and in other over-saturation cases — including those of Brett Favre, Tiger Woods, and Tim Tebow sagas — it gets draining even for the on-air talent at ESPN.
But Steele points out that in this case, it can't really be excessive if it's warranted. ”How do you do too much on LeBron?” the host and four-time “The View” panelist asked us rhetorically.
With the way he's been dominating, ABC and its self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports probably can't.
Focusing on the hardcourt action itself, Steele sees the series as one between a team (Miami) that has five guys who can shoot from outside, spreading the floor, and the fundamentally perfect Spurs, who combine trickle-down discipline with an explosive point guard in Parker.
So will recent history repeat itself? Last year, San Antonio had the Heat on the ropes in Game 6 before Miami's Ray Allen hit a series-changing three-pointer. The Heat won in seven, repeating as champs.
This year, who knows? Certainly not Steele. “I truly do not have a gut either way,” she told TheWrap. “Either way, seven games — flip a coin.”
Game 1 of the NBA Finals tips-off Thursday night at 9 p.m. on ABC