- Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals averaged 12.5 million viewers, as the Milwaukee Bucks won their first NBA championship in 50 years.
The last game of the National Basketball Association's Finals series featuring the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns attracted 12.5 million viewers on Tuesday, up 50% when compared to Game 6 of the 2020 series, which was played in October because of the Covid pandemic. But overall, the series still drew fewer viewers than the previous three NBA Finals played before the pandemic.
The Bucks beat the Suns 105-98 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, winning their first title in 50 years. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo took home the NBA Finals MVP after scoring a game-high 50 points and 14 rebounds and leading the team to their first championship since 1971.
The contest peaked at 16.5 million viewers in the 11 p.m. Eastern time hour, and the series averaged 9.9 million viewers overall. That's up 32 percent from the 2020 NBA bubble Finals series featuring 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, down 51% from the 2019 series.
The NBA Finals is usually played in June, and league officials note that July is the worst time of the year for PUT (people using televisions) levels.
Still, the 2021 series helped the league rebound from a viewership drop when Game 1 attracted 8.5 million viewers for two smaller-market clubs. That was up 13% from last year, and Game 2 was up 41% and peaked at roughly 11 million viewers.
The Bucks-Suns series averaged 9.3 million viewers through the 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 came in 1981. In media circles, some pondered why the NBA didn't plan for a Sunday time slot, believing that day would generate more viewers.
The NBA Finals was last played during the month of June in 2019, when the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors attracted 13.3 million viewers for Game 1 of the series. The six-game set averaged 15.1 million viewers. The 2018 series (Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers), featuring the NBA's biggest 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 was the first time in 10 years the league had its championship series without either James or Curry being involved.
But with the Bucks winning – overcoming a 0-2 series hole – and Antetokounmpo's performance in Game 6, expect his brand stake in the NBA to grow, similar to Curry's. One media executive noted that Curry's performance in the 2015 NBA Finals – his first championship – helped his brand and assisted in elevating the Warriors' popularity in the NBA.
Antetokounmpo, 26, averaged 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds in the series against the Suns, and after the game, his character and personality were displayed, including an emotional moment following the Bucks' victory. That could impact Antetokounmpo's future Q Score, a metric used by marketers to determine the popularity and likeability of athletes.
"He just continues to prove himself out as an eminently likable guy," said branding and marketing expert Scott Rosner. "You combine that trait with unbelievable ability, and displaying that during the Finals at a level that we rarely see, and overcoming adversity with the knee injury, the story just all adds up perfectly."
Rosner, a sports management professor at Columbia University, said Antetokounmpo was more exposed to casual NBA fans. That should help enhance his marketability for companies looking to add to their endorsement roster.
Antetokounmpo's endorsement deals with companies, including Nike, and has an equity stake in sports drink maker Ready Nutrition. According to Forbes, Antetokounmpo makes roughly $25 million from sponsorship deals, adding that money to his league-high $45 million (average) salary.
Asked what marketers will now see in Antetokounmpo after winning the NBA Finals, Rosner said: "A global citizen, great personality, a 10,000-watt smile, and an athlete that's able to do things rarely seen. Combine that with a championship and him performing at the highest level in the biggest moment; it's a pretty magical formula.
"But you've got to do it again," Rosner added. "Do it again or get close and keep that level of play very high. Repeating will help."