The final game of the National Basketball Association’s Finals series featuring the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns drew 12.5 million viewers Tuesday, a 50% increase compared to Game 6 of the 2020 series, played in October due to the Covid pandemic. But overall, the series still drew fewer viewers than the previous three NBA Finals played before the pandemic.
The Bucks defeated the Suns 105-98 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win their first title in 50 years. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo took home the NBA Finals MVP after scoring 50 points and 14 rebounds, leading the team to their first championship since 1971.
The match peaked at 16.5 million viewers in the 11 p.m. Eastern hour, and the series averaged 9.9 million viewers in total. That’s 32 percent more than in the 2020 NBA Bubble Finals series with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, and no spectators. That six-game series was played in October due to the pandemic and averaged 7.5 million viewers, a 51% decrease from the 2019 series.
The NBA Finals are usually played in June, and league officials note that July is the worst time of year for PUT (people using televisions) levels.
Still, the 2021 series helped the league recover from a decline in viewership when Game 1 drew 8.5 million viewers for two clubs with a smaller market. That was 13% more than last year, and Game 2 was up 41% and peaked at about 11 million viewers.
The Bucks-Suns series averaged 9.3 million viewers during its first four games and 9.5 million for Game 5, which was played last Saturday. The last time a finals game was played on a Saturday was in 1981. In media circles, some wondered why the NBA didn’t schedule a timeslot on Sunday, assuming that day would attract more viewers.
The NBA Finals was last played in the month of June in 2019, when the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors drew 13.3 million viewers for Game 1 of the series. The six-game set attracted an average of 15.1 million viewers. The 2018 series (Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers), with the biggest NBA stars in LeBron James and Steph Curry, averaged 17.6 million in four games. And the five-game series in 2017, including the same two teams, averaged 20.4 million viewers.
The 2021 NBA Finals marked the first time in 10 years that the league had its championship run without James or Curry being involved.
Expect Giannis’ NBA Brand to Grow
But with the Bucks winning – overcoming a 0-2 series – and Antetokounmpo’s performance in Game 6, he expects his brand stake in the NBA to grow similar to Curry’s. A media executive noted that Curry’s performance in the 2015 NBA Finals — his first championship — helped his brand and help boost the Warriors’ popularity in the NBA.
Antetokounmpo, 26, averaged 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds in the series against the Suns, and his character and personality were showcased after the game, including an emotional moment following the Bucks’ victory. That could affect Antetokounmpo’s future Q-score, a measure used by marketers to determine the popularity and liking of athletes.
“He continues to prove himself as an extremely likeable guy,” says branding and marketing expert Scott Rosner. “You combine that quality with incredible skill, and showing that in the finals at a level we rarely see, and overcoming setbacks with the knee injury, the story just all fits perfectly.”
Rosner, a professor of sports management at Columbia University, said Antetokounmpo was more exposed to casual NBA fans. That should help improve its marketability for companies looking to add to their approval roster.
Antetokounmpo’s endorsement deals with companies, including Nike, and has an equity stake in sports drink maker Ready Nutrition. According to Forbes, Antetokounmpo earns about $25 million in sponsorship deals, adding that money to his competitive $45 million (average) salary.
Asked about what marketers will see in Antetokounmpo after winning the NBA Finals, Rosner said: “A global citizen, great personality, a 10,000-watt smile and an athlete capable of doing things rarely seen. Combine that.” with a championship and he’s performing at the highest level at the greatest moment; it’s a pretty magical formula.
“But you have to do it again,” Rosner added. “Do it again or get close and keep that level of play very high. Repeating will help.”