Heat-Celtics Game 2 Had Lowest Eastern Conference Final Game Viewership Since 2003

Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat averaged 3.479 million viewers on Thursday night on ESPN. Per data from Sports Media Watch, which has a useful table of every conference final game viewership since 2000, Thursday was the least watched Eastern Conference Finals game since Game 4 between the Nets and Pistons in 2003, a series that ended in a sweep. Game 2 of the 2007 Western Conference Finals between the Jazz and Spurs was also slightly lower than last night's Celtics-Heat game.

Last year Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Bucks and Raptors averaged 4.394 million viewers on TNT; in 2018, Cavs-Celtics averaged 8.417 million viewers on ESPN. This means that last night's telecast was down 21 percent from the corresponding game last year and 59 percent from two years ago.

Obviously, there are some major mitigating circumstances. The NBA is out of season, and there aren't fans in the stands to ratchet up the excitement for the viewer at home. Thursday's game started two hours earlier than traditional conference finals matchups and the second half went up directly against a Thursday Night Football game between the Bengals and Browns that averaged 6.7 million viewers. Elsewhere on the dial, cable news continues to garner massive increases versus last year, in the midst of a global pandemic and polarizing presidential election.

Nonetheless, this continues a troubling trend for NBA playoff viewership, and the sports-starved audience that the league believed would be there when they returned from the pandemic has not materialized. While it remains a minor miracle that the league has pulled off the bubble, the quality of play has been very strong, they've been great partners for ESPN and TNT in delivering all this inventory that is essential for preserving cable and satellite subscription fees, and the league still gets robust numbers in the 18-49 demographic, the NBA has to look itself in the mirror at some point and grapple with its trending popularity decline.

The NFL's Thursday Night Football game, by the way, was slightly up from last year's Week 2 Bucs-Panthers matchup. While the game likely would have been down a little bit if not for out-of-home viewership being counted this year when it was not for 2019, flat-to-up is a win for the NFL in this environment.

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Ryan Glasspiegel grew up in Connecticut, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lives in Chicago. Before OutKick, he wrote for Sports Illustrated and The Big Lead. He enjoys expensive bourbon and cheap beer.