NBA Ratings, Tempers Heat Up for TNT in Miami

Big numbers, bad words in hoops showdown

Ratings for TNT’s coverage of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals have been weirdly consistent thus far, hovering at around the 11 million mark for each of the three broadcasts.

Last night’s Bulls-Heat battle delivered 10.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, up slightly from the 10 million fans who tuned in for Game 2. The May 15 series opener drew 11.1 million viewers, the largest audience ever for a cable NBA telecast.

Through the first three games of the Eastern Finals, TNT is averaging 10.7 million total viewers, an increase of 42 percent versus the same period a year ago. Over the course of 38 playoff games, the cable network has grown its adult 18-49 deliveries 38 percent (3.02 million), while men 18-49 are up 39 percent (2.13 million).

LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade combined to ring up 73 of Miami’s 96 points Sunday night, as the home team took a 2-1 series lead over the Bulls. While the Heat on Tuesday night will look to take another game from Chicago at American Airlines Arena, it’s unlikely that TNT will stage another outdoor post-game show.

Outspoken commentator Charles Barkley, who picked Chicago to win the series, was heckled by Heat fans during TNT’s al fresco wrap-up segment. After the rowdies chanted “Fuck you, Chuck!” for a sustained period, Barkley responded in kind, flipping the Miami partisans the double bird. 

Speaking on a WQAM-560 radio show this afternoon, Barkley seemed amused by the fan interaction. “They were telling me I suck. They were telling me I never won a championship,” Barkley said. “I always laugh at that statement, ‘You didn’t get a ring.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, you work at McDonald’s. My life’s a lot better than yours. Relax.’”

One less-than-amusing in-game exchange was caught by TNT’s cameras. With some six minutes left in the first quarter, after Bulls center Joakim Noah was rung up for his second foul, a live mic caught him yelling, “Fuck you, [redacted anti-gay slur]” at a fan behind the Bulls’ bench.   

Noah offered an apology to reporters after the game, but his comment is likely to earn him a stiff fine. Lakers star Kobe Bryant last month coughed up $100,000 after deploying the same slur against a referee.

NBA Commissioner David Stern is likely to be particularly unforgiving in Noah’s case, as the incident comes just as the league launched a new PSA campaign designed to promote tolerance among teenagers. The 30-second “Think B4 You Speak” spot features Phoenix Suns Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, and charges young fans to rethink their use of the word “gay” as a catchall insult.

ESPN’s simultaneous coverage of the Western Conference Finals is averaging around 7 million viewers. Game 1 of the Dallas-Oklahoma City tilt drew 6.98 million viewers on May 17, while Game 2 averaged 7.04 million. Ratings for Saturday night’s Mavs-Thunder matchup were unavailable.

Naturally, big ratings and an engaged audience translate to big ad bucks. According to Kantar Media, the 2010 NBA postseason network partners took in $417.7 million in total ad sales revenue. The going rate for a 30-second spot in the Championship Series: $402,000 a pop.

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