One of the most thrilling NBA Finals in history paid off big dividends for ABC and its advertisers, as the Cavs-Warriors showdown delivered the highest pro hoops ratings since the network secured the rights to the championship back in 2002.
According to Nielsen data, the six-game showdown between LeBron James' Cavs and Steph Curry's Warriors averaged just under 20 million total viewers and an 11.6 household rating, edging the previous record (11.5) held by the 2004 Pistons-Lakers series.
For the sake of comparison, the seven-game 2014 MLB World Series averaged 13.9 million viewers and a 8.3 household rating, while the recently-concluded Stanley Cup Final drew 5.5 million viewers and a 3.2 household rating.
The last time a network posted stronger results for an NBA championship series was in 1998, when NBC's presentation of the Bulls-Jazz shootout delivered a staggering 18.7 household rating. The Peacock Network averaged a record 22.3 household rating for the sixth and deciding game, which proved to be Michael Jordan's last in a Bulls uniform.
As is the case with nearly all high-profile sporting events, ratings guarantees in to advertisers in the NBA Finals are made against household deliveries rather than demographics. That said, this year's series averaged a 7.6 rating among adults 18-to-49, which marked a 25% improvement versus last year's 6.1 rating.
Tuesday night's clincher gave Golden State its first NBA title in 40 years and shattered Cleveland's hopes of ending a city-wide championship drought that stretches back to 1964. And while it put up predictably huge numbers (23.3 million viewers and a 13.4 household rating), a seventh game would have blown those figures out of the water. Historically, the games that break a 3-3 series tie tend to double the Game 1 deliveries; as such, ABC very well could have been looking at a Friday night audience of around 32 million viewers and a 21.2 household rating.
Not that ABC is complaining about its fortunes. According to iSpot.tv estimates, the network generated nearly a quarter-billion dollars in ad sales revenue ($223.9 million) over the course of the six-game series. A seventh game likely would have tossed another $45 million on the pile.
Movie studios promoting their upcoming summer releases were among the biggest spenders in the NBA Finals. Columbia Pictures invested some $11.5 million to showcase the Adam Sandler sci-fi comedy "Pixels" and the new James Bond film, "Spectre," while Universal shelled out $9.3 million on spots for "Jurassic World" and "Minions." The 60-second "Spectre" trailer had its world TV premiere in Game 3.
Warner Bros. also took its marketing message to the hoop, dunking $7.6 million on airtime for the doggy drama "Max," the stripper sequel "Magic Mike XXL" and a reboot of "Vacation." As was the case with "Spectre," the one-minute "Vacation" spot premiered during the Finals.
Other key backers included Official NBA Sponsors like Sprint, Taco Bell, Bud Light and State Farm, as well as non-affiliated brands such as Samsung Mobile, Toyota, Coors, McDonald's and Verizon. All told, 190 brands bought time in ABC's broadcasts.
Among the new fall series ABC promoted during the Finals were "Quantico," "Blood and Oil," "The Muppets" and "Dr. Ken."