Basketball is one of the most popular sports, viewed by millions across the globe. Different leagues and tournaments attract fans’ attention, but the NBA is certainly one of the most spectacular and viewed ones. Therefore, we are going to focus on this league while trying to understand the main tendonitis and impact of the basketball viewership. 

Regular Season Viewership Nuances

Of course, the main events of the season have the biggest audience and comprise the lion’s share of season game views. However, the NBA is not only about the matches between the best of the best. Many other teams with loyal fans also contribute to the regular season viewership.

A glimpse into recent seasons shows a zigzag pattern in the numbers across major networks like ABC, ESPN, and TNT. For instance, the 2017-18 season ended with 3.82 million viewers on ABC, which is more than 3.27 million in the 2016-17 season but less than 3.93 million viewers in 2015-16. This highlights the ever-changing fan interest.

If we take a look at recent seasons starting from 2019, we would see that the games averaged approximately 1.5 million viewers across key networks (e.g., in season 2022-23, this number was 1.59 million views). Of course, there were some major increases in viewership numbers when such strong teams as Mavericks vs. Lakers and Knicks vs. Sixers played, hinting at the potential increase in NBA audience. Still, games between less renowned teams retained the average number of viewers, about 1.5 million. This number was almost unchanged during the seasons 2019-20, 2021-22, and 2022-23. A slight decrease in NBA viewership happened in 2020-21 (slightly over 1.3 million average game viewers).

Given the trend of recent years, we might conclude that factors like the economic situation, pandemic, or changes in the teams had little impact on NBA audiences. 

Playoff Viewership Variability

The situation with playoff viewership is game-changing if we compare it with regular season statistics. Playoffs, which usually have the strongest team matchups, star performances, and increased spectacularity, showed almost 4 times higher viewership interest compared to regular games. Thus, the 2023 NBA Playoffs appeared to be the most-watched in five years, with an average of 5.47 million viewers, demonstrating the league’s magnetic pull.

Yet, those numbers were far from mindblowing 16 million viewers of 2016 Western Conference Finals Game 7 (Thunder vs. Warriors) on TNT. 

NBA Finals Viewership By Year

NBA Finals, of course, take the lead in the season viewership. Given the games between best-of-the-best teams, it is not something to be surprised about. The 2023 NBA Finals averaged 11.64 million viewers, peaking at Game 5 with 13.08 million viewers. The 2020-21 Finals saw a notable uplift to 9.91 million viewers across six games, a 33% increase from the prior year’s finals.

YearNetworkViewers (avg)
2023ABC6.1 (11.64M Viewers)
2022ABC6.6 (12.40M Viewers)
2021ABC5.2 (9.91M Viewers)
2020ABC4.0 (7.45M Viewers)
2019ABC8.8 (15.14M Viewers)
2018ABC10.0 (17.56M Viewers)
2017ABC11.3/22 (20.38M Viewers)

Still, the recent Finals can’t be compared to the 1997-98 NBA Finals, starring Michael Jordan’s Bulls against the Jazz. This game remains the most-watched in history, with an average of 29.04 million viewers, illustrating the undeniable impact of superstar players on NBA viewership numbers.

NBA Teams On National TV

Not all NBA teams receive game coverage on national TV. There are many factors influencing the frequency of a team’s matches to be shown on national TV. The team’s popularity, the availability of star players, and recent successful seasons impact this.

For example, in season 2021-22, the Los Angeles Lakers had 28 national TV appearances, the highest number in the league. These statistics just highlight the Lakers’ widespread popularity and the presence of high-profile players​​ on the team. The Lakers were closely followed by the Milwaukee Bucks, who had 24 national TV appearances in the 2021-22 season. The Milwaukee Bucks got more time on national TV due to their recent successful seasons.

In contrast with those leading NBA teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, and Sacramento Kings did not have national TV coverage in the 2021-22 season, which reflects their lower market appeal or rebuilding status​​.

Hall Of Fame Matchups: The NBA’s Most Electrifying Showdowns

In NBA history, there are games that are remembered for decades after they took place. Those matches did not only boast spectacular events on the floor but also some of the record-breaking viewership numbers. No doubt, Chicago Bulls’ clashes under the unbeatable spirit of Michael Jordan captivated millions of basketball fans, and those games took the lead in the list of “Hall of Fame” matches. The top 5 games to be always remembered are:

№1 – 1998 NBA Finals Game 6 (Bulls vs. Jazz)

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A peak of NBA viewership, this suspensive clash attracted 35.89 million viewers, setting an unprecedented record. Jordan’s decisive shot decided the Bulls’ sixth championship, a moment that is forever remembered by Bulls fans.

№2 – 1993 NBA Finals Game 6 (Bulls vs. Suns)

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This game drew 32.1 million viewers and saw the Bulls secure their third consecutive title.

№3 – 2016 NBA Finals Game 7 (Cavaliers vs. Warriors)

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This game was witnessed by approximately 31.02 million across the globe and serves as a proof of the Cavaliers’ epic comeback, the first team to gain a victory after a 3-1 in the Finals. 

№4 – 1998 NBA Finals Game 5 (Jazz vs. Bulls)

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Approximately 30.6 million viewers tuned in to see how Jazz claimed a vital victory over a powerful opponent.

№5 – 1997 NBA Finals Game 5 (Bulls vs. Jazz)

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This game is also known as “The Flu Game.” Despite the sickness, Jordan led the Bulls to victory. It was watched by about 30.26 million viewers. One more iconic moment to remember!

The Mosaic of NBA Viewership: A Demographic Survey

Who are those millions of basketball players who build the NBA viewership together? Well, the audience is far from being homogeneous. You might even be surprised by some of the categories that are a part of it and listed below:

  • Afro-Americans comprise a significant segment of the NBA’s viewership, and 40% of them are avid fans.
  • Women now represent over one-third of the NBA audience, marking a 23% surge in female viewership during the 2020-2021 season.
  • People from countries that are hardly associated with basketball have shown increased interest in this sport in recent years. The Philippines, where 63% of the population show a keen interest in the NBA, is certainly one such international community

Speaking about the age of NBA viewership, it mainly ranges from 18 to 44. Both the 18-34 and 35-44 age groups show a high interest in NBA games, illustrating the league’s cross-generation attractiveness.

Viewing Trends: The Impact of Stars and Social Media

What are the two current trends that show a high impact on audience engagement and viewership increase? Those are, no doubt, star players and social media. 

Stars Influence

The 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons saw viewership soar to 2.51 million, reviving Michael Jordan’s golden years. The numbers increased despite fewer broadcasted games, mainly due to LeBron James and his phenomenal games with Miami. 

Social Media Influence

The Internet and the different media channels it brought have a great impact on viers engagement and their interest in the NBA. Thus, the NBA YouTube channel, with over 20 million subscribers and over 75 million unique viewers every 90 days, significantly amplifies NBA reach and engagement of basketball fans.


NBA viewership and related statistics show that there is a stable base of loyal fans who watch basketball regularly and try not to miss a single game. Thanks to this fandom, basketball has maintained high viewership throughout the years and remains one of the most popular sports worldwide. 

Moreover, the demographics of the viewership broaden each year, as there is an increase in female and international audience, so there are good signs of rising NBA viewership in the coming years.