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NBA Playoff Game 7s Burst Post-‘Bubble’ Ratings Drought

NBA playoffs
(Image credit: DraftKings)

Two Game 7 Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff games over the weekend produced the NBA’s biggest TV numbers since the pre-pandemic 2019 postseason. 

As the league noted Tuesday, TNT’s coverage of the Milwaukee Bucks’ 115-111 win over the underachieving Brooklyn Nets was watched 6.9 million viewers, while the Atlanta Hawks’ 103-96 upset of the (also disappointing) Philadelphia 76ers was seen by 6.2 million watchers. 

Both contests represented the most watched NBA Playoff games this year and continued a marked ratings rebound for the league’s post-season following an audience cratering for the delayed “Bubble” NBA playoffs last fall that saw the Los Angeles Lakers six-game NBA Finals win over the Miami Heat average only 7.45 million viewers, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data. 

This was for the Finals. Last year’s Bubble semifinals averaged only 3.04 million viewers across platforms, down 37% from 2019. 

Measuring viewership across TNT, ABC and ESPN for the 12 first-round and semifinal playoff series across the NBA’s Western and Eastern conferences, total viewership is up 39% vs. 2020, the league said Tuesday. 

Notably, NBA League Pass viewership is up 22% over “The Bubble.”

Is the league all the way back, audience-wise? With the erosion of linear TV and some of the audience migrating to League Pass, apples-to-apples comparisons with 2019 are hard to come by. 

But here’s the benchmark to meet: The Toronto Rapter’s six-game win over the injury riddled Golden State Warriors in the 2019 Finals averaged 15.1 million viewers on ABC. 

Will a Finals featuring the mid-market Bucks vs. the Phoenix Suns beat that number? That’s the matchup currently favored by odds makers as both Conference Finals rounds heat up.

We’d definitely take the “under” on that one.