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By The Numbers

ABC hopes to score with LeBron and company in the NBA Finals

Raghu Manavalan Jun 6, 2013

The NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs begins on ABC this week, and thankfully for ABC, LeBron James will be on the main stage.

James and the Miami Heat almost didn’t make it to the Finals. A best-of-seven playoff series against the Indiana Pacers went to its final game, a few bounces here-and-there could have meant a Indiana vs. San Antonio match-up tonight — not exactly a drama-filled star-studded affair ABC hoped for when signing a six-year television rights deal worth about $930 million a year with the NBA.

The NBA’s biggest star on its biggest stage means higher ratings, and higher ratings means ABC can negotiate more money for commercials during the Finals. But what kind of ratings boost can the NBA expect with Miami in the Finals instead of Indiana? Does that translate to extra money for ABC?

According to Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi from Emory University, a Heat-Spurs finals should see a 9.3 rating, compared to a 8.3 rating a Spurs-Pacers match-up would have garnered. Though advertising rates are negotiated with a variety of factors and aren’t completely tied to ratings, ABC will surely point to higher ratings to charge more.

The projected 9.3 rating is the same mark the 2008 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics earned, when the price for a 30-second commercial on ABC was around $400,000, according to Sports Business Daily. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a little over $430,000 today.

Had the smaller cities had their day in the sun, the numbers would have shrank $15,000 compared to the 2008 finals. The potential 8.3 rating the Pacers and Spurs matchup could have earned would have been closer to the 8.2 rating during the 2005 NBA final between San Antonio and the Detroit Pistons, which charged around $350,000 for a  30-second commercial. That’s about $415,000 in today’s dollars.

No matter what the competition, LeBron has his work cut out for him in terms of ratings. Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1998 scored a 18.7 rating in the Finals against the Utah Jazz, his last year in Chicago.

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