The Celtics were the big winner of Sunday’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but nobody benefited more than ESPN.
Not only was Miami and Boston hanging on every shot, but a record-setting overall audience was tuned in on ESPN. The 7.9 overnight rating is the highest for an NBA playoff game on cable television, according to the network.
It was the highest-rated NBA game ever on ESPN in Boston (20.7), the third-highest in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale (19.7) market.
Excluding NBA Finals, the rating was the highest for any playoff game since a second-round game between the Lakers and Spurs drew 8.0 on ABC in 2003.
With two more games assured and a good chance the series will go seven is obviously pleasing to the network, sponsors and the league, which seems to have avoided repercussions with fans from the lockout that delayed the beginning of the season.
It also bodes well for a high-interest Finals, despite small-market San Antonio and Oklahoma City dueling in the Western Finals. The first four games of that series drew ratings on TNT that are up 7 percent from last year’s Western Conference Finals between Dallas and Oklahoma City on ESPN. TNT is reported to be headed for the second-highest rated playoffs in its 28 years of broadcasting the games.
"We want to get to the place where that question isn't asked," Commissioner David Stern said of the small-market effect during a news conference last week. “And for us to mean it and you to believe it. Because no one asks it when you see Green Bay, New Orleans and Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl."
The ratings for Heat-Celtics Game 4 were up 10 percent from 7.2 rating for Game 4 of last year’s Eastern Finals between the Heat and Bulls, which was on a Tuesday.
It was up 39 percent from Mavericks-Thunder in Game 4 of last year’s Western Finals, which drew a 5.7 on a Monday night, and up 30 percent from the 6.1 overnight rating for the Magic and /Celtics in Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Finals, also on a Monday.
Ratings for games on cable have been tracked since 2003.