Logos for the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics
Logos for the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics - 
Listen To The Story


Kai Ryssdal:Game one of the NBA Finals is tonight, just down the street from Marketplace world headquarters here in Los Angeles. In a league where showboating superstars are usually the center of attention, this year the playoffs have served up basketball's greatest team rivalry: the Lakers and the Boston Celtics. No other teams have dominated the history of the NBA, really, like those two have.

And even though hot young phenoms like LeBron James are going to be sitting this one out, advertisers are banking on a rather old-fashioned combination of nostalgia and great basketball. Jeff Horwich reports.

Jeff Horwich: This year's NBA finals will feature plenty of star players. Kobe Bryant, of course. Kevin Garnett. Also, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson.

Game announcer: Magic with a hook-shot scores with two. And the Celtics trail by one with two seconds to go...

David Carter: This will be a series that features players, but maybe not just today's stars.

David Carter runs the Sports Business Institute at USC. The Celtics and Lakers have met 10 times in the finals. Together they dominated the 80s. Carter says advertisers are lining up to cash in on that nostalgia.

Carter: This is one of the premier rivalries in all of sports, akin to the Red Sox and the Yankees. So I think that when you consider these are major media markets, these storied franchises, I think it tees up rather nicely.

How nicely? ABC is guaranteeing advertisers about 14.6 million viewers a game. John Lombardo with Sports Business Journal says that's 300,000 more than last year's L.A.-Orlando match up.

John Lombardo: I think that ABC and the NBA's counting on a heated rivalry that goes beyond the NBA fan to more of a casual sports fan.

For now, ticket prices are one leading indicator of the power of this match up. Russ D'Souza of SeatGeek.com says prices on what's politely called "the secondary market," also known as "scalpers," have soared.

Russ D'Souza: The highest ticket price that we've seen is actually for game two, where we saw transactions that were $752 on average.

D'Souza says prices remain high even into the sixth and seventh games. That means fans expect a long, hard-fought series. For advertisers and the NBA, those extra games are worth way more than a few LeBron James slam dunks.

I'm Jeff Horwich for Marketplace.