The good news keeps coming from the NBA and its television partners.
ESPN announced Tuesday that overnight ratings for its five Christmas-Day NBA games (including the two that aired on ABC) were up 39 percent from last year’s slate, having increased from 2.8 to 3.9.
The down-to-the-wire Thunder-Rockets game that aired at 8 p.m. ET on ABC drew a 4.1 overnight rating, making it the highest rated Christmas primetime matchup since ABC began airing holiday games in the early 2000s. OKC-Houston was the second most watched contest of the day behind the Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals rematch on ABC, which netted a 5.5 overnight rating, fifth highest ever among early window Christmas games.
The NBA’s Christmas-Day viewership spike probably owed in large part to the quality of the games and the narratives that went with them. In a league dominated by star power, it doesn’t get much better than Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden, John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving, and Kristaps Porzingis vs. Joel Embiid. (Karl-Anthony Towns vs. um, Lonzo Ball isn’t quite the same, but you get the point.) ESPN and ABC had a Finals rematch, a clash of young stars, a battle of perennial MVP candidates and more.
Overall, this year’s lineup was much more appealing than last year’s. The fact four of the five games Monday were decided by single-digit margins couldn’t have hurt, nor did the fact that three of the four games aired on ABC, compared to last year, when three of the five games aired on ESPN.
Still, the 39 percent bump was likely about more than just intriguing matchups and an extra ABC slot. National NBA viewership in general is surging, with ESPN and TNT’s coverage up 21 percent this season as of last week, per an NBA spokesman. That spike comes after NBA Finals average viewership increased for the third straight year last June. America just can’t get enough pro basketball these days.