The Business of the NBA Finals—Part 3 - Black Enterprise

The Business of the NBA Finals—Part 3

Television networks search the high seas to find programming that will appeal to a large concentration of the coveted male audience. Doing so can bring fortune in the form of revenue from corporate advertisers.

NBA Finals Ratings
San Antonio/ Cleveland
San Antonio/Detroit
Detroit/Los Angeles
San Antonio/New Jersey
Source: Nielsen Media Research

For ABC, the NBA Finals present an opportunity to tap into a diverse audience with a large disposable income. Owned by The Walt Disney Co., the broadcaster recognized the value of the NBA fan. From 2002 through 2008, it paid $2.4 billion for shared access with ESPN, its sister network, to 15 regular-season games; partial ownership to the playoffs, which could also be seen on TNT; and exclusive rights to the finals.

There are business perils in acquiring high-profile events with expensive price tags. Last year’s championship game, in which the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in four games, was the lowest-rated finals in league history. It scored a 6.2 rating and an 11 share and was watched by only 9.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Some analysts say because the matchup was between teams in smaller markets, numbers 17 and 37 respectively, viewership suffered. However, not since Michael Jordan’s last appearance in the 1998 NBA Finals has the series reached a staggering 29 million people.

Doug White, ESPN’s senior director of programming and acquisitions says, “We kept an eye on the [2007] dip, but one year will not keep us from moving forward.” In June 2007, the network extended its contract for $7.4 billion through the 2015-2016 season, and execs are pleased that this year’s matchup is between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

The Lakers-Celtics first matchup in the best of seven series was watched by an average of 13,384,000 viewers, according to ABC, an increase of 45% compared to last year. The Lakers-Celtics game, in which the Celtics won 98-88, averaged an 8.7 rating, up 38% over last year’s 6.3 rating. The broadcast “won the night” among all television networks, averaging more homes and viewers than any other show, with ABC winning primetime overall among all networks. The game one match helped the network mark its highest-rated Thursday among men aged 18-49 since September 2005, the network said. Ratings weren’t yet available for the Lakers’ 102-108 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

The reunion of rivals has created a media bonanza, as the two teams have squared off on 10 different occasions. The first meeting was the 1958-59 championship, and the last face-off was in 1987, the highest-rated NBA Finals during non-Jordan years.

The benefit of playing in the second-largest market and the loyal following of franchise players like the retired Magic Johnson and current standout Kobe Bryant, is otherwise known as the Laker effect–a formidable force that will surely