Early returns for LeBron James's decision were very strong for ESPN.
According to Nielsen overnights in the nation's top 56 markers, ESPN's presentation of its special, The Decision, during which James announced that he would be joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat, averaged a 7.3 rating from 9 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. The performance marked the highest overnight rating for any non-NFL ESPN program in 2010 and was the top-rated program in all of television, cable or broadcast, according to officials at the sports programmer.
Associated Pressreported that the show is expected to be the biggest audience the sports programmer has ever registered for a news program.
The telecast peaked with a 9.6 rating from 9:15-9:30 p.m., when James officially made the announcement.
In Cleveland, where James, an Akron native, played the first seven seasons of his NBA career, The Decision averaged a 26.0 metered market rating, which was followed by Columbus with a 14.2 and Miami a 12.8.
Chicago ranked sixth with a 10.7 rating and New York seventh with a 10.4 rating. Both the Bulls and Knicks had met with James and his representatives during his free-agency courtship period.
The July 8 telecast easily exceeded the audience for ESPN's exclusive interview with Tiger Woods on March 21, 2010, which posted a 0.4 metered market rating for SportsCenter from 6 p.m.-8 p.m, and the network's exclusive interview with Alex Rodriguez on Feb. 9, 2009, which generated a 0.9 metered market rating during the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter).
James's decision attracted more than 300,000 unique viewers on broadband service ESPN3.com, one of the largest audiences ever for a non-World Cup match. ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile Web tallied more than 3 million unique visitors from 9 p.m.-10 p.m.
Additionally, visitors spent nearly 130 million minutes on the ESPN.com home page, ESPN.com NBA section, ESPN Mobile Web home page and ESPN Mobile Web NBA section throughout the day, according to network officials.