Chris Paul # 3 of the Phoenix Suns brings the ball up court against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of the first game of the NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on July 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Chris Coduto | Getty Images
The National Basketball Association recovered from a terrifying 2020 NBA final and drew more than 8 million viewers on ABC for Game 1 of their championship series between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks.
The total number of viewers for the game averaged 8.5 million, an increase of 13% from the first game of the 2020 NBA Finals. Due to the pandemic, this series was played last October; it featured the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. The 2020 Game 1 was the lowest since 1994 when the OJ Simpson chase interrupted that broadcast.
The July 6th Suns Bucks competition peaked at 11 p.m. ET with an audience of 9.9 million.
The NBA said the opener “also generated 20-year ratings in the Phoenix and Milwaukee markets. The show received a 23.9 rating on the Milwaukee market, the best since 2001, and a 23.7 rating on the Phoenix market, the best since 2000. “
The Suns lead the 2021 series after a 118-105 win, setting up a crucial Game 2 on Thursday as the Bucks try to avoid a two-game hole. It’s the first time in decades that both franchises appear in the finals, with the Bucks last playing in 1974 and the Suns in 1993.
International attendance could take a hit as the league works to repair its relationship with China. The country is the NBA’s top market outside of the US, but it still doesn’t show any games on state CCTV after an incident in 2019 with Philadelphia 76ers manager Daryl Morey. The NBA Finals will be streamed across China by media partner Tencent.
In league circles, the NBA isn’t too concerned about the low attendance at the Finals in the last two cycles. Last October, NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum told CNBC that audience numbers for the 2019-20 season were “a total anomaly” as the pandemic and social unrest caused disruption. This year the event is still off schedule, and league officials believe July will have the lowest PUT (people who use TVs) scores of any month of the year.
On Tuesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league will return to a normal schedule for the next season, which means the finals will take place in June as usual. The NBA final was last played in June 2019, when the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors drew 13.3 million viewers for Game 1 of the series.
The latest crowd comes after the NBA sees a successful postseason run that spanned multiple games 7. Game 7 of the Brooklyn Nets against Bucks drew 6.9 million viewers and the last game between the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers drew 6.2 million viewers.
The NBA also drew 5.6 million viewers for its play-in game between the NBA’s biggest superstars in LeBron James and Steph Curry.