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TNT, ESPN Close 2009 NBA Playoffs With Record Ratings

As ABC, the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers prepare for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, cable carriers TNT and ESPN can look back at the 2009 playoffs fondly as both set ratings records.
Lifted by dramatic numbers with their respective coverage of the Western and Eastern Conference finals, ESPN averaged a 3.7 cable rating for 19 games, while TNT scored a 3.6 mark for 43 contests during the 2009 pro hoops postseason.
For the total sports network, the final ratings average represented a 12% gain over its 3.3 mark for the 2008 pro basketball league's playoffs. ESPN saw households grow 14% to 3.59 million from 3.15 and viewership climb 19% to 4.89 million from 4.1 million.
ESPN's coverage of the Western Conference finals, during which the Lakers took the measure of the Denver Nuggets in six games, averaged a 6.2 rating, 6.06 million households and 8.71 million viewers, easily surpassing the previous rating best of a 4.8 for its coverage of the 2006 matchup between Detroit and Miami and the 4.55 million households and 6.03 million viewers it posted last season with Boston-Detroit.
Led by Game 4 on May 25, which netted 6.76 million households and 9.73 million viewers, the Western Conference finals (sans Game 3) yielded the five highest-rated and most-watched games basketball games, pro or college, in ESPN history.
The conference semifinals coverage, keyed by Game 6 of the Lakers-Houston Rockets battle on May 14, which pulled in 5.3 million households, averaged a 3.5 rating, 3.46 million households and 4.58 million viewers, up from a 3.4 in 2006 and 3.09 million households and 3.95 million viewers in 2008.
For its part, the drama network recorded a 16% gain to a 3.6 cable ratings average for 43 contests during its 25th year of NBA playoff coverage, versus a 3.1 for 41 games in 2008. On a national basis, that translated into a 3.1 household rating, up 19%, with 4.71 million viewers, 24% more than its 3.81 million average with the 2008 postseason.
The network closed out its exclusive coverage of the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference finals with a 5.4 U.S. household rating, a 30% increase over its 2008 Western Conference Finals coverage, featuring the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, and an increase of 36% in total viewers to 8.63 million from 6.33 million and a 29% rise in households to 6.14 million from 4.75 million.
It also dunked a 35% increase over the 2008 Eastern Conference finals on ESPN (4.0 national rating for five games) and a 43% increase from 6.04 million total viewers.
Gauged on a cable basis, this year's Eastern Conference finals, in which the Magic sent LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers packing in six games, garnered a 6.3 mark, up 34% from a 4.7 versus ESPN's Eastern Conference finals coverage in 2008, and a 29% amelioration over a 4.9 for its coverage of Lakers-Spurs last season.
TNT was led by its May 28 Game 4 telecast of Magic-Cavs, which reached 10.1 million viewers on average, the most ever for a basketball game on cable.
The network topped cable's primetime for all six games of the Eastern Conference finals in households, total viewers, and key adult and male demos, according to TNT officials.
The network's second-round coverage was highlighted by the Magic's Game 7 victory over the defending champion Celtics on May 17. TNT notched 5.91 million households and 8.41 million viewers, cable's most ever for a conference semifinal contest.
Further, TNT's May 2 telecast of Boston's victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 was the most-watched opening round game in the medium's history among households (5.02 million) and viewers (6.99 million), according to Nielsen Media Research data.