Lakers-Celtics Game 7 draws almost 30 million viewers
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It wasn’t exactly Magic and Bird, but Thursday night’s sloppy Game 7 finale between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics drew 28.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
That’s the biggest audience for an NBA finals game since 1998, when 35.9 million people watched Michael ‘Air’ Jordan send Karl ‘the Mailman’ Malone and the Utah Jazz packing.
Overall, about 18.1 million people on average tuned in to watch the Lakers-Celtics series. Last year’s finale between the Lakers and the Orlando Magic averaged 14.3 million.
Locally, 4.3 million people watched Game 7 on KABC-TV Channel 7. However, that number does not include the tens of thousands who went to a bars and got loaded cheering the Lakers on. Overall, KABC averaged 2.8 million viewers for its coverage of the Lakers-Celtics series.
Although Walt Disney Co.’s ABC -- which aired the games -- and ESPN -- which produced them as well as carrying a heavy load of NBA regular-season and playoff games -- have plenty to celebrate, this year’s final was a dream match. The Lakers and Celtics are longtime rivals, and both teams have huge national followings. This NBA championship was the equivalent of a Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl or a Yankees-Dodgers World Series.
Furthermore, unlike the World Series and NFL playoffs and championship, the NBA finals face very little competition for viewers’ attention. Baseball and football finish their seasons during the television season. Last year’s World Series between the Yankees and Phillies averaged 19.4 million viewers. The NBA, on the other hand, wraps up in June and hence faces mostly reruns. (Nothing trumps the Super Bowl -- and last year’s had a record TV audience of 106.5 million.) The NFL playoffs also tend to draw bigger numbers than the NBA and Major League Baseball.
Disney pays about $500 million annually for its basketball coverage; Time Warner’s TNT shells out roughly $400 million. Both those deals are up after the 2015-16 season.
-- Joe Flint