In a press release issued by TNT – the cable channel responsible for airing most NBA games in the U.S. – game one of this year’s Eastern Conference Championship series between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls was the most-viewed cable game in history, drawing more than 11 million viewers worldwide. Wednesday’s game two was no slouch itself, drawing more than 10 million viewers and outpacing not only all cable networks in the 8 to 11:30 pm time slot, but also trumping broadcast giants like ABC, NBC and CBS in prime time. Only Fox’s American Idol had a higher rating, and not by much.
This ratings binge for the NBA – no doubt brought on by the LeBron James spectacle this past offseason and Miami’s Big Three, now on the verge of playing for a national championship in their first year together – could be a harbinger of doom for the NFL, which for the past decade has been the undisputed king of American sports. As the lockout continues into its tenth week and the prospect of a lost 2011 season beccomes more and more realistic, NFL owners and GMs still seem rather unphased by the possibility of losing fans to other sports. But even now, in May, as all things are quiet on the NFL front and fans have little to look forward to other than the Top 100 Players list and an occasional piece of Adam Schefter gossip, the NBA, MLB, and even the NHL are seeing a rise in viewer interest. If there were to be no football in 2011, it’s a relatively safe bet that this trend would continue, and diehard NFL fans might not be so diehard by the 2012 rolls around. I’m not saying it would be the end of the league, but owners and GMs should definitely take notice.