The ratings for Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals were notably low, but there’s a pretty big catch.
The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 118-109 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night, which creates hope for an extended series and more games for ABC and ESPN to air and frame content around.
The home crowd in Toronto created a frenzied atmosphere in and around Scotiabank Arena, and they’ll do so again for Game 2 Sunday night. It’s also safe to say fans who didn’t come out in Toronto surely tuned in on television in droves to watch the first NBA Finals game to ever take place in Canada, and basketball fans across the entire country tuned in to watch their team.
The perceived inevitability that the Warriors will win another title may push more casual NBA fans to tune out, or not watch as much as they might. The Raptors have been a playoff-caliber team for many years, but in terms of broader cache’ the quiet Kawhi Leonard is their best player.
In a broad sense, Game 1 had strong ratings.
But compared to last year, and recent history according to Sports Media Watch, Game 1 pulled a low number. The 10.1 overnight rating was the lowest for any Finals game since 2013.
Thursday’s Warriors-Raptors NBA Finals Game 1 earned a 10.1 overnight rating, down 18% from Cavaliers-Warriors last year (12.3) and down 19% from Cavaliers-Warriors in 2017 (12.4).
The 10.1 is the lowest for Game 1 of the NBA Finals in a full decade — since Magic-Lakers in 2009 (8.9). It is also the lowest for any NBA Finals game since Heat-Spurs Game 3 in 2013, a 36-point San Antonio blowout (10.0).
Toronto is one of the biggest markets in North America. But for American networks who don’t possess Canadian broadcast rights, and ratings thus don’t register in the United States, losing one of the home markets for the NBA Finals is a significant hit to ABC’s television ratings.
That said, Game 1 was the lowest-rated Finals opener in the Bay Area market during the Warriors’ current run.
The Raptors may not pull off an upset, but the promise of a competitive series stands to push ratings up some going forward. If Canadian television ratings could be combined with American ratings to form one total, the 2019 NBA Finals might set a ratings record.