The 2022 NBA Playoffs got off to a good start over the past couple of weeks. With the first round in the dust and the second round underway, the numbers were crunched and the league averaged 2.987 million viewers for its first round games, per the Sports Business Journal. That’s the league’s best first round since 2018.
Out of home viewership clearly played a significant role in the increase, since Nielsen’s OOH metric had issues with undercounting viewers from its 2020 launch through late 2021, which would have impacted both sets of NBA Playoffs in those years.
What also makes the strong viewership this year noteworthy is the fact that zero Game 7s took place in the first round, with four series ending in four or five games and the other four ending in six. Game 7 is typically a strong driver for viewership across all sports in any round, and missing out on that potential bounty prevented the league’s first round viewership from soaring even higher.
For context, the aforementioned 2018 playoffs had a pair of series go to seven in the first round, one of which involved the LeBron James-led Cavaliers.
Each network also experienced highs in the first round this year. 22 TNT games averaged 3.34 million viewers, its best mark since 2018. ESPN’s eight games averaged 3.34 million viewers, its best mark since 2014. NBA TV also hit its best mark since 2014 with 575,000 viewers for seven games.
The Conference Semifinals are also off to a great start. Game 1 of Warriors-Grizzlies drew 7.714 million viewers on ABC Sunday per Showbuzz Daily, the most-watched game of these playoffs. In a release, ESPN noted that the game was ABC’s most-watched second round game since 2011. Earlier in the day, Game 1 of the Bucks-Celtics series drew 5.370 million, good for the fourth-most watched game of the playoffs (behind Warriors-Grizzlies, Game 1 of Nets-Celtics, and Game 4 of Warriors-Nuggets). Turner drew 3.822 million on Monday for 76ers-Heat on TNT, and 3.937 million for Mavericks-Suns.