TORONTO — While most Toronto Raptors fans are likely hoping for a quick and victorious end to the NBA Finals matchup against Golden State, Bart Yabsley wants it to go on as long as possible.
The recently appointed president of Sportsnet has been celebrating record-breaking ratings for the Rogers Media network during the team’s unprecedented playoff run and is hoping for the same as it airs several games of the finals.
Sportsnet and Bell Media’s TSN split the Raptors’ broadcast schedule in Canada.
For the finals, Sportsnet has the rights to broadcast Games 1, 3, 5 and 7, which would take place in Toronto and no doubt be a ratings boon.
“If it gets to Game 7, there will be a party at our shop,” Yabsley said Thursday in an interview before Game 1, which he planned to attend.
“I’m happy to say I hope it goes to Game 7. We will be nervous. I’ll probably be more nervous in Game 6: ‘Do we get Game 7 or not?’”
Saturday night’s decisive sixth game of the Eastern Conference final, in which the Raptors beat the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, shattered the NBA’s Canadian television audience record.
Sportsnet said an average of 3.1 million viewers tuned in for that game — well above the previous record of an average of 2.2 million, set in Game 7 of the second round against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.
Sportsnet’s three games shown during the East final had a series average of 2.1 million viewers, a 77 per cent increase from the Raptors’ other conference final appearance in 2016.
“We’re talking quantum leaps here,” Yabsley said.
“I think our regular season audience was up 44 per cent over last year.”
Such numbers rival those of the last Grey Cup, which netted an audience of around 3.1 million, said Yabsley.
“That’s the kind of thing that gets me excited,” he said. “Three million people is a lot of people. We’re in major, major sporting event territory.”
The Raptors aren’t just a slam dunk for ratings.
On Saturday, Sportsnet set a one-day record for sales for its one-week pass to its Sportsnet Now live streaming service, said Yabsley.
The Raptors’ success has also offered Sportsnet a chance to broaden, nationalize and grow its audience, he added.
Yabsley hopes there’s also “a carry-over impact” when the season is over, with the creation of new fans who will watch the next regular season for the first time.
“It’s a very different crowd than other sports, because of its diversity: ethnic, male, female. It cuts across a broad spectrum of society,” Yabsley said, adding Raptors’ audiences also skew a bit younger.
“It’s a very attractive audience for advertisers.”