You could call the TV ratings for the 2019 NBA Finals so far a “tale of two cities”—or two countries.
The matchup of the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors has not rated well at all in the United States. But Canada has been a different story.
Game 1 of the Finals on ABC on Thursday scored a 10.1 overnight rating, down nearly 20% from Game 1 in 2018 and in 2017. It was the lowest rating for Game 1 of the NBA Finals in almost a decade.
Nielsen measurements in the U.S. do not include Canada, where Game 1 was the most-watched NBA game in the country’s history—until Game 2. The NBA says Game 1, which was simulcast across Sportsnet National, Sportsnet One, and RDS, reached 8 million viewers in Canada. That’s 22% of the Canadian population.
Game 2 was even bigger. The NBA says 10.6 million people in Canada tuned in for Game 2, simulcast across TSN, CTV2 and RDS. It easily bested Game 1 as the most-watched NBA game in Canada ever. In the U.S., Game 2 did about the same as Game 1: a disappointing 10.2 overnight, down about 20% from Game 2 of the 2018 Finals.
Chalk it up to the absence of LeBron James, who played in the past eight NBA Finals, or to a small U.S. fanbase for the Raptors. Either way, the NBA was prepared for these numbers, and can at least partially spin it as a positive indicator for the league’s popularity in the North.
“In the U.S., I recognize it's a changing television marketplace,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on Friday about the Game 1 ratings. “We knew we would be down a bit by virtue of both not having two U.S. markets and we've come off eight years of having LeBron James in the finals. I also pay a lot of attention to the numbers in Canada, where we set an all-time record for viewership.”
Some pundits argue that if the Eastern Conference team in the Finals had been the Boston Celtics (led by Kyrie Irving), or the Philadelphia 76ers (with stars like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons), the numbers in the U.S. would look better. But Raptors fans are thrilled, and are showing their enthusiasm by tuning in.
And if this series goes seven games, expect the Game 7 ratings to look a lot healthier.
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.