The 2017 NBA Finals has had interesting moments, but it certainly has not possessed the same level of competition compared to previous years. The Golden State Warriors are up 3-0, pulling off the Game 3 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the last moments and practically securing their second championship in three years.
However, the NBA announced on Thursday that ratings for Game 3 were up 22 percent compared to last year’s Game 3, and that these NBA Finals are the most-watched NBA Finals through the first three games since 1998, the year that Michael Jordan clinched his sixth championship. The Game 3 broadcast on ABC delivered over 20 million viewers, “making it the most-watched NBA Finals Game 3 ever on ABC.”
Ratings in Cleveland and California were naturally higher, reaching a 32.4 rating in Cleveland and a 31.1 rating in the San Francisco-Oakland area for Game 2. And the growth in streaming adds additional viewers which makes this one of the most-watched NBA Finals ever.
Does Parity Matter?
The fact that the ratings are so high calls into question about what NBA fans really want to watch. Most NBA fans can now stream the content using a hotspot signal booster to increase reception. But we should remeber this is the third straight NBA Finals between the Warriors and the Cavaliers. The Warriors swept their way through each of the previous rounds while the Cavaliers lost just one game in their rounds.
And while there have been exciting moments with Cleveland sometimes keeping it close, the Warriors have clearly proven themselves to be the superior team in these three games. By taking advantage of what was essentially an unexpected loophole in the cap in 2016, a 73-win team signed Kevin Durant and is on the verge of pulling off the most lopsided playoff run in history.
Ever since the Warriors signed Durant, fans have complained about how the decision has killed parity in the NBA. That complaint appears to be legitimate given how the Warriors have cruised to the Finals and how they will be the heavy favorites to win the championship going into next season.
But the high television ratings indicate that fans are perfectly willing to tune in to watch a dominant team triumph over the competition. While the Warriors were certainly the heavy favorites going into the series, there are plenty of narratives which makes for compelling viewing such as the possibility of Durant’s first championship.
The NBA’s History of Dominance
NBA fans says they love parity, but the NBA’s history is filled with dominant teams. The 1980s, the era which is credited with reviving the NBA, was essentially a decade-long battle between Larry Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers. That was then followed by other dominant teams like the Bulls and the Spurs. The NBA playoffs are the most predictable out of any American professional sports league as a NBA star like LeBron James has a much bigger impact in his game than a comparable star in a different sport.
But while the NBA ratings are high for now, will they hold up if the Warriors continue to rule the league for years to come? This Warriors team would be expected to dominate next year, and likely for years to come. If they continue to win championship after championship without a sweat, will fans tune in to see dominance or get bored of one team winning it all?
It is possible to imagine ratings declining if the Warriors end up too dominant, but TV analysts had predicted before the 2017 Finals began that ratings would not equal the 2016 Finals. Those predictions turned out to be inaccurate, and NBA and TV experts may have to revise their understanding of what NBA fans wish to watch.
Game 4 will be played on Friday at 9 pm EST as the Warriors look to close things out.