ABC Scores Big With Mavs NBA Title Win

Dirk prevails, LeBron fails

Hoops fans on Sunday night turned out in droves for what may well be the last NBA game to be played in 2011. 

According to preliminary Nielsen data, the deciding game of the NBA Finals earned a stellar 15.0 overnight rating for ABC, marking a 22 percent improvement from Game 6 of last year’s Celtics-Lakers showdown (12.3).

As the Dallas Mavericks vanquished the Miami Heat 105-95 to take their first title in the team’s 30-year history, the underdogs helped wrap a strong series for ABC. Through the first five games of the series, the network averaged 16.1 million viewers per broadcast.

All told, Sunday night’s game drew the third-highest overnight for an NBA game on ABC since the network first began broadcasting pro hoops in 2002. Last year’s Game 7 clincher between the Celtics and Lakers posted an 18.2 overnight, while the deciding Game 5 of the 2004 Finals notched a 15.4.

Once the final deliveries are in, ABC is likely to have averaged around 21 million viewers with its coverage of last night’s game. Should those numbers stick, ABC will have averaged some 17 million viewers over the course of its six broadcasts.

(Final ratings for sportscasts tend to decline by as much as 15 percent versus the preliminary overnight numbers.)

If the Mavs’ win proved to be a feel-good conclusion to the 2010-11 NBA campaign––the gutty, workmanlike performance of Dirk Nowitzki and Co. was the antithesis to Miami’s off-court boorishness––the image of the Mavs raising the O’Brien Trophy may be the last sunny vibe NBA fans can expect to feel in a while. The league’s labor contract expires on July 1, and even the most optimistic observers say there’s very little chance the new season will tip off in October as scheduled.

As the NBA heads into the sunset, the National Hockey League season is still up for grabs. Vancouver heads into tonight’s Game 6 with a 3-2 lead over Boston.

Through the first five games of the best-of-seven series, NBC/Versus is averaging 3.59 million total viewers, well ahead of the last three NHL Stanley Cup Finals featuring a Canadian team.

In 2007, NBC and Versus shared the rights to the Ottawa-Anaheim series; the then-unaffiliated networks combined for a paltry 1.76 million viewers per game. The previous year, NBC and Versus precursor OLN averaged just 2.83 million viewers with their coverage of the Carolina-Edmonton Finals.

In what would be the last Stanley Cup Final before the season-crushing 2005 lockout, ESPN and ABC drew 3.29 million viewers with their shared coverage of the Calgary-Tampa Bay series.  

When one of the six Canadian franchises reaches the finals, ratings almost always take a hit, largely because the team’s homegrown fans are obviously not included in the Nielsen TV ratings sample. Next season, the league will gain another north-of-the-boarder squad, as the Atlanta Thrashers will relocate to Winnipeg. (That move is subject to formal approval by the NHL Board of Governors, which is set to vote on the matter on June 21.)

Thus far, the June 2 opener was the most-watched of the series, drawing 4.56 million fans to NBC. Game 5 was a close second (4.35 million). As expected, Games 3 and 4 delivered significantly smaller audiences (2.76 million and 2.71 million, respectively), as they aired on Versus, a cable outlet that reaches around 75 million homes.

The puck drops on Game 6 tonight (June 13, 8 p.m. EDT) on NBC.