The 2016 NBA Finals finally produced a close game on Sunday, when LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers eked out a nail-biting, four-point victory for the team’s first ever league championship. But, the competition for television viewers was anything but close last night, as ABC drew record ratings for Game 7.
The championship series finale was the most-watched NBA game ever broadcast on ABC, whose parent company is Walt Disney, and the Cavaliers’ Game 7 win over Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors also marked the highest-rated sports telecast on either ABC or Disney’s ESPN since 2006, according to ESPN. (ABC aired Super Bowl XL in 2006, which pulled in more than 90 million viewers.)
Early numbers from Nielsen show that Game 7 on ABC earned an overnight average rating of 18.9, which means the game averaged about an 18.9% share of Nielsen’s metered markets throughout the roughly three-hour broadcast. While exact viewership totals have yet to be released, preliminary reports show that more than 25 million viewers tuned in to ABC for last night’s game, which peaked with a 25.5 rating between 10:30-10:45 p.m. ET, when the Cavaliers were closing in on wrapping up the win over the Warriors.
Ratings for last night’s game were the highest for an NBA Finals matchup since 1998, when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls posted a 22.3 rating in the final game of their series with the Utah Jazz. Last night’s ratings were also up 7% from the most recent Game 7 of an NBA Finals series, in 2013, in addition to easily beating out already strong ratings from earlier games in this year’s NBA Finals, which saw just over 20 million viewers tune in for Game 5 last week.
Last year’s NBA Finals—in which the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in six games—averaged roughly 20 million viewers per game and the series reportedly earned ABC more than $223 million in advertising revenues, which means this year’s seven-game series likely earned the network an even greater haul in terms of ad revenue. (Of course, the fact that a longer series means more potential revenue for ABC and the NBA is no secret, but that fact turned into the subject of a conspiracy theory in the past week, after Ayesha Curry, the NBA MVP’s wife, called the series “rigged” in a tweet after her husband was ejected from Game 6.)
ESPN also noted in a press release that Sunday night’s game was the most-watched NBA game ever on the network’s WatchESPN app, with 1.76 million unique viewers generating more than 96 million total minutes streamed during the game.
ABC easily trounced its network rivals on Sunday night, as most competing broadcast networks aired primetime line-ups loaded with repeats. Cable ratings for Sunday have yet to be released, so it remains to be seen if HBO’s massively popular series Game of Thrones was able to stand up against the NBA’s season-ender, though it is also possible that last night’s very poorly-timed outage for HBO Now—the premium cable channel’s paid streaming service—could have sent at least some viewers over to ABC for the end of the Cavaliers-Warriors match-up.