Two Sweeps, Miami-Denver Finals Could Be a Deflating End for NBA Playoffs

Nuggets lead Laker 3-0 in NBA Playoffs
The Denver Nuggets lead the L.A. Lakers 3-0 in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals. (Image credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A rousing NBA playoffs may come to a deflating end if the Miami Heat and the Denver Nuggets turn their 3-0 leads in the conference finals into sweeps.

There is also less enthusiasm for an NBA Finals matchup between the Heat and the Nuggets than the marquee matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers that has TV sports executives salivating.

The four-game sweeps would result in losses for The Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery because they wouldn’t be able to run the commercials they’ve already sold for the “if needed” games that could have been played in best-of-seven series.

If the twin sweeps occur, it would mark the first time ever both NBA conference championship series ended in 4-0 shutouts.

“Obviously sweeps aren’t great,” said one network executive. “Less games, less inventory.”

During the regular season, NBA games averaged 1.59 million viewers, down slightly from last season, which is pretty good considering the cord-cutting that has undermined viewing of most cable channels.

So far, the playoff ratings have been the best in years,

On Friday night, Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT delivered its most-watched NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 2 since 2013, averaging 6.1 million viewers, up 60% from a year ago. Overall, TNT’s playoff coverage is up 9% from last year, averaging 4.2 million total viewers, its highest since 2014.

Also Read: Strong NBA, NHL Playoff Ratings Give Warner Bros. Discovery More Spots To Sell

ESPN reported that its average of 5.23 million viewers was up 14% from last year and the best since it started carrying NBA games during the 2002-03 season. 

Television networks generally break even with five-game series and make money when interest intensifies and ratings increase for Game 6 and Game 7 of a competitive series.

There is also a lot less enthusiasm for a Finals matchup between the Heat and the Nuggets.

Pundits have suggested the league was looking forward to a potential series between Boston and Los Angeles. The teams are two of the league's best-known franchises and have a long-running rivalry that would stir fan interest. Plus, the Lakers have LeBron James, who is one of its highest-profile players. James would be looking to cap his career as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader with a fifth championship ring.

While the Nuggets feature Nikola Joki, a two-time MVP, and the Heat are led by the indomitable Jimmy Butler, ESPN will have more work to do selling those contestants when the finals air on ABC.

Some advertisers wait until after the matchups are established to put last-minute money into big events like the NBA Finals.

“Definitely not ideal! Lakers–Celtics is the gold standard for an NBA Finals Matchup,” Adam Schwartz, senior VP, video investment, sports at Horizon Media, said. “Nothing can compare from a ratings standpoint. You hope for a long series between Heat-Nuggets.

“Playoff ratings have been great but the shortened series’ will have an impact overall,” Schwartz said.

Should the sweeps happen, the networks have ways of dealing with money that was committed to games that won’t be played, softening their losses.

Both ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery can shift NBA advertisers’ dollars into other sports properties in the second quarter.

"We have the ability and opportunity to move NBA clients around to the other second-quarter sports properties across our portfolio, including NHL Stanley Cup, MLB, and The Match,” Jon Diament, executive VP, ad sales, Warner Bros. Discovery, said. “We also have our 24/7 sports digital properties such as, NBA TV and Bleacher Report, which are always on.” 

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.