Raptors set Canadian TV record in Game 1 of NBA Finals, but U.S. ratings down

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors’ NBA Finals debut gave the team its third Canadian television audience record in two weeks.

The story was much different south of the border.

Sportsnet says Toronto’s 118-109 win over the visiting Golden State Warriors on Thursday night attracted an average audience of 3.3 million viewers, a record for an NBA game in Canada.

That figure topped the previous record of 3.1 million, set last Saturday in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference final as the Raptors finished off the Milwaukee Bucks.

But those numbers don’t count for ESPN, which said Friday that the series opener had a 10.1 overnight rating, the lowest for Game 1 of a title series in a decade.

The combination of Canadian viewership not counting toward the metered-market ratings formula used in the U.S., and the lack of LeBron James’s star power for the first time in nine seasons led the NBA correctly anticipate the ratings dip.

“Put aside perception, there is the actuality of the ratings,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday. “Of course, I pay a lot of attention to those. I also pay a lot of attention to the numbers in Canada, where we set an all-time record for viewership. In the U.S., I recognize it’s a changing television marketplace. We knew we would be down a bit by virtue of both not having two U.S. markets and we’ve come off eight years of having LeBron James in the finals.”

Ratings throughout the playoffs have been down in the NBA, with James and the Los Angeles Lakers not making the playoffs surely a major factor.

“I’m not overly concerned,” Silver said about the current numbers. “But I’m certainly paying attention to it.”

Before the Raptors’ last two games, an NBA game had never attracted an average audience of more than three million viewers in Canada.

The previous high was on May 12 when an average audience of 2.2 million viewers tuned in for the Raptors’ Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinal on Sportsnet, a game highlighted by Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater.

Sportsnet says Game 1 of the NBA Finals reached 7.4 million Canadians and the audience peaked at 4.1 million at 11:35 p.m. ET, just as Toronto was completing its victory.

TSN has the Canadian rights for Game 2 of the Finals on Sunday night.

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