The NBA Finals are set to tip off Thursday in San Francisco, and given the pairing of the most-titled franchise in basketball history and arguably the greatest team of this young-ish century, fans are in for a treat. But perhaps no group is more chuffed than the Disney ad sales team, as the showdown between the immovable object that is the Boston Celtics’ defense and the irresistible force of the Golden State Warriors’ offensive attack seems destined to play out over six or seven nights.
In the ratings game, duration is everything. While Golden State in these playoffs has yet to require a Game 7, Boston’s road warriors appear poised to take this series to the limit. During a postseason that saw the home team prevail 57% of the time, the Celtics went a cool 7-of-9 from the visitors’ bench, converting 78% of its chances. After sweeping a dazed Nets squad in the first round, Boston needed the full seven to muscle past defending champs Milwaukee in the conference semis before repeating the process against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Naturally, any continuation of the Celtics’ established postseason pattern should ensure a lengthy series for ABC. The longer the run, the bigger the TV audience—and as the games pile up, the ad dollars will follow suit. During the 2019 NBA Finals, the last pre-pandemic championship series, which saw the Raptors dethrone the Warriors in six games, ABC booked $250.7 million in ad sales revenue, per Standard Media Index estimates. Given what should be a favorable ratings performance (in 2019, ABC was hamstrung by a Toronto club unaligned with any U.S. media market), a run of equal duration should generate an even greater haul this time around.
In-game ad units will be hard to come by—the opening four frames are effectively sold out, and much of the inventory in an as-yet hypothetical fifth game (and beyond) has been reserved—but marketers looking to get in on the action should be prepared to pay as much as $750,000 for each 30-second spot. In the event of a seventh game, nobody’s getting off that easy, not with a potential audience of 30 million viewers on the line.
If the prospect of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green getting together for another dynastic run isn’t encouraging enough, ABC’s got a real spoiler on its hands in this young Celtics squad. The Celtics have given the Warriors fits over the span of their last 10 meetings, compiling a 7-3 record against Golden State. Since the Steve Kerr era began eight years ago, Boston is the only NBA team that can claim a winning record over the Warriors—and they may have what it takes to spoil Golden State’s comeback crusade, with Jayson Tatum averaging 27 points per game in the postseason.
More to the point, these teams have been the season’s two biggest draws. Of the 30 most-watched games of the current NBA campaign, Boston has appeared in 14, while Golden State has featured in just one fewer. The Celtics have bragging rights to the highest-rated game of the season, as Game 7 of the Miami set averaged 9.88 million viewers on ESPN. The audience peaked in the closing seconds of the game, reaching 12.2 million viewers as Jimmy Butler missed the three-pointer that would have put Miami up 99-98.
This rare nail-biter—Boston ran off with Game 2 by a 25-point margin of victory, while sewing up the fourth game with a 20-point advantage—helped drive the series average up to 6.97 million viewers, making it the most-watched Eastern Conference Finals since 2018. Meanwhile, the Warriors’ five-game Western Conference Finals series against Dallas averaged 6.74 million viewers, and although that was down 11% compared to the team’s last qualifying stint in 2019, TNT’s deliveries improved 38% compared to the year-ago Hawks-Bucks clash in the Eastern Conference Finals.
As we await the opening tip, Vegas consensus has Golden State down as -155 favorites over the Celtics (+130). Golden State entered the season listed at 10-1 odds to win the title, while Boston started off as a relative long shot (50-1). Oddsmakers favor the Warriors to persevere in seven games (+325), although the odds of the Celtics claiming their 18th banner in six games isn’t far off at +350. Either result will draw a huge crowd and pay off handsomely for ABC.