2024 NBA Finals Ratings Slump Hard: Do Fans Need a True Villain?


The 2024 NBA Finals have come and gone with far more of a whimper than a bang, if early indications are anything to go by.

The Boston Celtics dispatched the Dallas Mavericks in five noncompetitive games, ending the series with an easy 106-88 home victory at TD Garden on Monday and clinching an NBA-best 18th championship.

And while the major metropolitan areas of Boston and Dallas were obviously vested in the lopsided games, the same can’t be said about viewers at large.

As Forbes noted, this year’s culmination of the NBA season drew its lowest viewership in three years.

On its surface, the numbers don’t seem particularly grim for the league.

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As Disney (parent company of ABC, which broadcast the Finals) touted, the series-clinching game on Monday drew a respectable 12.2 million viewers.

According to Forbes, this year’s Finals averaged about 11.3 million viewers per game.

On the surface, 12.2 million and 11.3 million seem like solid numbers.

But comparatively, it’s impossible to deny a hard slump in the NBA Finals ratings.

Did you watch any of the NBA playoffs this year?

The 2023 Finals saw an average of 11.6 million viewers per game, while the 2022 matchup averaged 12.4 million viewers per game.

According to Awful Announcing, only the COVID-19-impacted 2020 and 2021 NBA Finals have drawn lower ratings than this year’s offering, dating back to 2007.

As to why this year’s Finals saw a slump, the easy answer is to point to the games themselves.

None of the five contests — nor the series as a whole — was particularly competitive.

The Celtics found themselves with large leads in all four of their wins, and even in the team’s lone Finals loss, Dallas blew Boston out of the water by 38 points.

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(Per Forbes, that Game 4 Dallas win failed to hit an average of 10 million viewers.)

The order in which Boston won the games also sapped it of all drama: The Celtics won the first three games in the seven-game series, a deficit from which no team in NBA playoffs history has ever come back (0-3 comebacks have happened in hockey and baseball).

But even if this series had been a knockdown, drag-out, seven-game slugfest, it’s fair to question how well this series would have fared with viewers.

The last two NBA Finals, both of which failed to crack an average of 12 million viewers per game, didn’t feature the NBA’s two most recognizable faces in Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.

The two are polarizing at a level that few in NBA history have ever been, and that usually is reflected in the ratings.

For better or worse, James and Curry (and to a lesser extent, current Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant) have been public NBA “villains” whom people want to tune in and watch lose just as much as other fans want to see them win.

That sort of figure was lacking in this year’s Finals.

Yes, Mavericks superstar guard Luka Doncic is a polarizing player with his heliocentric style and constant barking at referees. And yes, Boston has carved out a role for itself as a rather villainous sports city, due in no small part to the New England Patriots.

But neither Doncic nor Boston is quite as singularly evocative as James or Curry.

With both those two NBA stars far closer to the ends of their respective careers than the beginning, the league might need to find a new “villain” to help jolt ratings.

The last two Finals appear to be proof of that.

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Bryan Chai has written news and sports for The Western Journal for more than five years and has produced more than 1,300 stories. He specializes in the NBA and NFL as well as politics.
Bryan Chai has written news and sports for The Western Journal for more than five years and has produced more than 1,300 stories. He specializes in the NBA and NFL as well as politics. He graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. He is an avid fan of sports, video games, politics and debate.
Class of 2010 University of Arizona. BEAR DOWN.
Phoenix, Arizona
Languages Spoken
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Topics of Expertise
Sports, Entertainment, Science/Tech