In the equivalent of a 20-point blowout, ESPN's presentation of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night became the most-watched basketball game in cable history, shattering the previous mark in the process.
ESPN's June 9 telecast of the MIami Heat's series-clinching 101-88 win over the Boston Celtics averaged 13.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. That represented a 19.8% jump over the 11.1 million who tuned in the opening contest of last season's Eastern Conference Finals on May 15, 2011, when the Chicago Bulls crushed the Heat.
Two other telecasts from this year's ECF -- Game 4 and Game 6 -- had approached the former TNT mark, with ESPN pulling in 11.07 million watchers on June 3 and June 7, respectively.
The NBA Finals tip off tonight -- matching Miami's Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh against Oklahoma City's top trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden -- at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC.
With the hotly contested Game 7 -- Miami pulled away in the final minutes -- ESPN concluded its 2012 NBA playoffs game coverage with a basketful of Nielsen records. The 6.2 U.S. household rating average for the ECF matched TNT's mark from a year ago and was ahead 44% from the 4.3 the worldwide leader scored with its presentation of the 2011 Western Conference Final, won by the Dallas Mavericks over the Thunder. The Heat-Celts series averaged 10.1 million viewers, trailing only the 10.4 million for Heat-Bulls last year. However, ESPN was up 46% in viewership from 6.94 million for its semifinal-round coverage from last year, with household impressions advancing 43% from 4.99 million for Mavs-Thunder.
Bolstered by the ECF, the 2012 NBA playoffs coverage was ESPN's highest-rated and most-viewed ever. Over 21 games, ESPN averaged a 4.5 household cable rating, up 25% compared to 2011's 3.6 mark. Both viewership (6.23 million vs. 4.98 million) and household impressions (4.5 million vs. 3.61 million) also improved by one-fourth.
From a demo standpoint, ESPN's NBA postseason game coverage netted double-digit gains across these key demos: 35% among males 18 to 34 (5.0 vs. 3.7); 31% with guys 18 to 49 (4.6 vs. 3.5); 29% with men 25 to 54 (4.5 vs. 3.5); 35% against persons 18 to 34 (3.5 vs. 2.6); 28% among persons 18 to 49 (3.2 vs. 2.5); and 24% with adults 25 to 54 (3.1 vs. 2.5).
Throughout the 2012 playoffs, NBA content on ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile properties logged an average minute audience of 71,000, up 22% compared to the previous year, according to Adobe/Omniture.
The NBA section on ESPN.com averaged 1.9 million daily unique visitors, with 16 million total minutes daily, up 9% from the 2011 pro hoops postseason. Additionally, the NBA section on the ESPN mobile Web averaged 1.7 million daily unique visitors, with 17 million total minutes per day, a 45% increase.
On broadband service ESPN3 and simulcast app WatchESPN, the playoffs averaged 10.6 million minutes per game across computers, smartphones, tablets and Xbox -- a 102% surge from last year. Additionally, the ECF logged its largest growth on computers, with unique viewers per game up 72% and total minutes per game up 82%. That amounted to an average minute audience per game of 118,000. ESPN3 and WatchESPN also logged their largest NBA audience this season with Game 7 of the Heat vs. Celtics, generating an average minute audience of 176,000, 534,000 unique viewers and 28.8 million minutes.