As the NBA began its 2011 Finals last night, the basketball community and the NBA are anticipating a dip in viewership for the Dallas Mavericks versus the Miami Heat series compared to last year’s seven game juggernaut between arch rivals, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, this year’s Finals are the best Plan B that the NBA could ask for. All the hype and talk of the Miami Heat and its “Big Three” will finally have its answer. Also, this Finals represents what could be Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki’s last chance at capturing a world championship ring.
However, the NBA and most likely ABC and ESPN held its breath for quite awhile when the Lakers were swept by Dallas in round two. That’s the amount of leverage the Lakers have on the media, local and national, and the NBA. Once falling from the post-season, the media jumped on delivering any type of story on the Lakers, from trade rumors to team personnel analysis. This type of coverage is warranted due to the surrounding news of the team. Phil Jackson was leaving, a replacement had not been identified, Pau Gasol had a disappearing act in the playoffs, and there was a deep shock in the basketball world when the reigning back-to-back champions were booted out so dramatically.
However, there is another reason. The Lakers are the most marketable team in the NBA. Why? The team is interesting, highly successful, has a long tradition, and plays in one of the biggest markets in sports. The Lakers have known who they are and what their identity is as an organization since they moved to Los Angeles, and they know how to sell it. The Lakers have built and developed a front office that sets the professional standard in the NBA. They have acquired a coaching and training staff that is highly sought after. They know how to spot talent, acquire it, develop it, and perform with it.
All of this leads to people buying into the team. Those people want to hear, see, and read about the Lakers. Fans who aren’t Laker enthusiasts tune in because the team still peaks their interest. It is the media, the NBA, and the networks who love this. They attract more viewers whenever the Lakers’ name is involved, and the money follows. Advertisers and sponsors come rushing in at the chance to market to the big audience that the Lakers attract.
When Miami and Dallas previously met in the NBA Finals in 2006, the series averaged 13 million viewers. Last year’s Finals received an average of 18.1 million viewers, with 28.2 million viewers tuning into Game 7. This year’s Finals will attract an audience, especially with people watching to see LeBron James either fail or prevail. But most of the casual fans that will be watching this year’s Finals will be because of the Heat, not the Mavericks. It is save to say that viewer interest would be even higher if it was the Lakers in the Finals against the Heat, rather than Dallas.