The 2016 NBA Finals have performed well by the league’s standards, but last year’s finals have the edge after three games. More people watched the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers when they first battled for the championship in 2015 than they are this year with the Warriors coming off a record win total and the Cavaliers at full strength.
This year's series opener set a record for any Game 1 since the finals moved to ABC in 2003, and it was watched by an average of 19.2 million viewers. Last year’s Game 1 was seen by 17.8 million viewers, though ratings for last season’s finals have done better than this year’s as the series has moved along.
Game 2 had an 11.8 overnight rating, giving ABC its third-best number for a Game 2 in the last 13 years. The 2015 finals had a Game 2 overnight rating of 12.9. An average of 17.4 million people watched Game 2 on Sunday, compared to 19.2 million viewers last year.
Ratings remain relatively strong, but this year’s series has been hurt by games that haven’t been competitive. Every contest has been decided by at least 15 points, and Game 2 was the most lopsided, as the Warriors won by 33 points and LeBron James was held out for the entire fourth quarter. Both Game 1 and Game 2 of last year’s finals were decided in overtime.
Game 3 of the 2015 finals was decided by five points, and the Cavs and Warriors entered the contest having both won a game in the series. Wednesday’s Game 3 was much different as Golden State was looking to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, having dominated both Game 1 and Game 2.
Instead, it was Cleveland who got the easy victory, and the 30-point win resulted in an 11.8 overnight rating. Last year’s Game 3 was the highest-rated of any Game 3 in ABC history, posting a rating of 13.7.
Ratings could improve as the series moves along. Cleveland showed some life in Wednesday’s win, and they have a chance to extend it to a minimum six-game series in Game 4 on Friday night.
The first three games of the 2016 finals are averaging a 12.2 overnight rating, via sportstvratings.com. Last year’s series between Cleveland and Golden State went six games, averaging 19.94 million viewers and a 13.9 overnight rating.
The 2015 finals was the highest-rated NBA series since Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls in 1998. Chicago’s six-game triumph over the Utah Jazz averaged 25.2 million viewers.
Prior to this year, James’ six finals appearances averaged 16.1 million viewers. The low came in 2007 when the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavs with an average of 9.3 million viewers.