The 2015 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers received the highest TV ratings since ABC began broadcasting the series in 2002, the network announced Wednesday. With an average overnight rating of 13.9 for the six-game series, it's the most-watched Finals since Michael Jordan's final championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1998.
A matchup featuring two of the game's best players in Stephen Curry and LeBron James drew in millions of viewers for each game. The Warriors' series-clinching Game 6 victory had a 15.9 overnight rating -- a Game 6 record for ABC -- and generated ratings over 40 in both the Bay Area and Cleveland-Akron markets. It was also watched by nearly a million people on WatchESPN.
They're impressive numbers for ABC and the NBA, the likes of which wouldn't be expected based on the teams playing in the series. These aren't small markets -- Nielsen ranks the Bay Area as sixth-largest in the U.S., Cleveland-Akron is 19th -- but it shows the popularity of the league that ratings weren't driven by the nation's biggest cities.
The highest-rated Finals in league history came in 1998 when the Bulls topped the Utah Jazz in six games thanks to Jordan's heroics. That series received an average overnight rating of 18.9, continuing a long trend of big numbers for the Finals during the 1980s and 1990s. Since ABC landed the rights from NBC in 2003, this is the closest we've come to those huge audiences the league once commanded. The 13.9 average rating also represents a 31 percent increase from a year ago when the San Antonio Spurs topped LeBron and the Miami Heat.
Given the expanded array of entertainment options at people's disposal in 2015 compared to a couple decades ago, the NBA's ability to draw in massive audiences for the Finals is a good sign for the league's popularity. And with the Warriors taking the title using an exciting brand of basketball despite LeBron's best efforts, fans weren't left disappointed when they tuned in. On the broadcast side of things, the 2015 Finals were a major success.