Excitement was palpable for the early release of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and that’s been reflected through the ratings.
“The Last Dance” continues to reach massive audiences, averaging 5.8 million viewers across premieres of its first six episodes, which is 62% more than the next-closest documentary debut on ESPN (“You Don’t Know Bo” in 2012).
This past Sunday, episodes 5 and 6 averaged 5.5 million viewers across ESPN and ESPN2 from 6 to 8 p.m. PT. Episode 5, which was dedicated to Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, averaged 5.8 million viewers, based on initial Nielsen reporting.
With episodes 5 and 6 highlighting the Lakers, New York Knicks, Madison Square Garden, Bryant and Magic Johnson, the New York (+11%) and Los Angeles (+12%) markets were both up double digits compared to the first four episodes of “The Last Dance.”
The top five metered markets for episodes 5 and 6 included Chicago (11.4 rating), Greensboro (5.7), Raleigh-Durham (5.5 rating), Charlotte (4.7 rating) and San Diego (4.5 rating).
As part of its overall audience, the documentary continues to be consumed by the 18-49 demo. Among adults ages 18-49, episodes 5 and 6 averaged 2.9 million viewers, with episode 5 averaging 3.1 million viewers and episode 6 averaging 2.8 million viewers.
While it had long been expected Bryant would be highlighted during “The Last Dance” his tragic death in January made that all the more emotional and impactful. Jordan offered a glimpse into the close bond he shared with Bryant while speaking at his public memorial, and the documentary accentuated that.
Of course, the competitiveness that drove both icons was on full display as well. Footage from the 1998 NBA All-Star Game showed Jordan telling his fellow East All-Stars that Bryant would insist on playing one-on-one.
Then during the game, film from the bench showed Jordan asserting he was going to force Bryant to play defense as well.
Interviews with Bryant were equally as insightful and entertaining. He touted Jordan as a central figure to his winning five championships with the Lakers, and explained why debates over who would win one-on-one were futile and unnecessary.