This year’s NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns have apparently caught the interest of basketball fans after registering better viewership ratings than last year. Is this an indication that LeBron isn't as important as he once was?
Small market teams, more significant viewership
Milwaukee and Phoenix are small market teams compared to Los Angeles or Brooklyn. Yet, this year’s Finals are getting higher viewership compared to last year. In 2020, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Andre Iguodala battled to win an NBA ring. While Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul are all All-Star, they are all first-timers on the grand stage. Does this mean that fans have had enough of James’ annual Finals appearances?
According to Forbes, this year's viewership ratings are up by as much as 13 percent compared to the 2020 Finals. Last year set the record for historically low viewership amid the Black Lives Matter protests and other distractions. In 2021, more people got vaccinated, hence, more time to enjoy the games live or during viewing parties.
It is important to note that it is still lower than pre-pandemic ratings despite getting better numbers this year. From 2015 to 2018, finals viewership fetched an average of 18.3 million viewers. Game 1 of Suns-Buck topped at 8.6 million viewers.
The play-in bubble could be a factor
The play-in to determine the final slots for the playoffs could be a factor. The league has implemented this type of format, a first in its history, and fans appreciated the hype and competitive basketball that came with it.
There were many knock-out games, and the game between former Finals protagonists L.A. Lakers and Golden State Warriors peaked at 6.1 million viewers - only 2 million shy of a Finals game. The pandemic brought unique challenges, and the NBA has addressed that with unique solutions. It brought the excitement back, and it reflected on the TV ratings.
Has LeBron started losing his star appeal?
James made the finals eight consecutive times. The dominance is almost unheard of in any sport. However, fans seem to be getting accustomed to the idea of an NBA without Lebron. If this year's Finals are any indication, there could be passing of the torch from LeBron being the face of the league to younger and upcoming superstars such as Antetokounmpo, Trae Young, Devin Booker, or Luka Dončić.
James is still the NBA's biggest star, but it seems we won't have the post-MJ kind of transition where the league was desperate to find the next Michael Jordan. Everything else needs to be on the table if the NBA wants to get back to the 18ish million viewers numbers from the Warriors - Cavs era.
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