TV Viewing Trends From the NBA Finals

When the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns took the court in the 2021 NBA Finals, they were greeted by arenas full of cheering fans for the first time since 2019. Curious to understand how fans watched the league’s championship event on their televisions, we’ve compiled insights on TV streaming sports trends and traditional linear TV viewership. The data also was recently picked up in MediaPost’sNBA Finals Lose Ground Over 2-Year Period, While Streaming Rises. 

Here’s what we learned: 

1. Both TV Streaming and Linear TV Viewership Increased on the Roku Platform 

Fans turned out in higher numbers for the 2021 series and watched more hours of gameplay. 

  • Streaming channels that aired the Finals, excluding vMVPDs (virtual multichannel video programming distributors such as Sling TV), had a 17% year-over-year (YoY) increase in streaming reach and a 42% increase in streaming hours 

  • On traditional linear TV, we estimate that approximately 48 million people over the age of 18 tuned in to the 2021 NBA Finals, an increase of 11% vs. the 2020 Finals 

The 2021 NBA Finals represents the first year we have observed an increase in tentpole TV viewing across both streaming and traditional linear TV. 


2. Traditional Linear TV Audiences Continue to Skew Older 

Compared with the 2020 NBA Finals and as observed on a Roku device, traditional linear TV audiences: 

  • Increased in viewers 65+ by 16% 

  • Decreased in viewers 18-34 by 12.6% 

Additionally, since our data shows that people were 167% more likely to switch from traditional linear TV to TV streaming, TV streaming remains an important method to connect with these younger-skewing audiences.* 


3. Traditional Linear TV Viewership was Higher in Milwaukee Than in Phoenix 

Milwaukee didn’t just win the series. The Milwaukee designated market area (DMA) drew more viewers than its Phoenix counterpart. 

  • We estimate that more than half (approximately 56%) of active Roku TV households (HH) in the Milwaukee area tuned in to the 2021 series on linear TV. This audience bested the approximately 43% of active Roku TV HHs in the Phoenix area that tuned in to the series on traditional linear TV 

  • In addition, the ’21 Finals were more appealing among 2021’s contenders vs. 2020’s: Last year among Roku TV households, we estimate that approximately 36% of Los Angeles market fans (Lakers) and 35% of Miami-Fort Lauderdale market fans (Heat) tuned in on traditional linear TV  

TV Streaming, For the Win 

Our data shows that once fans try TV streaming, they are less likely to revert to traditional linear TV. If you need to reach sports viewers, this means TV streaming has become indispensable.    

If you’d like to reach and engage the large and growing audience of sports fans on TV streaming, contact us to get started.  

* Includes viewing data for all the relevant channels carried by vMVPDs during time of gameplay. This includes programming other than the NBA Finals.