NBA struggles to keep up with Broncos-Rams, sees Christmas ratings uptick despite NFL competition

Christmas day has long been the purview of the NBA on the American sports calendar.

Except on a Sunday.

With Christmas falling on a Sunday this season, the NFL took full advantage with its first-ever holiday triple-header that expectedly dominated the ratings. But it didn't appear to hurt the NBA. While trailing the NFL by steep margins, the NBA managed a notable uptick in viewership from 2021 over the course of its five-game slate.

Per Sports Media watch, Sunday's Green Bay Packers win over the Miami Dolphins won the Christmas ratings battle with an average audience of 25.92 million on Sunday, the NFL's eighth-highest viewership of the season and the league's second-largest Christmas day audience ever. A Los Angeles Rams blowout of the Denver Broncos finished second on Sunday with 21.67 million viewers, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' win over the Arizona Cardinals tallied 17.15 million viewers. The Packers-Dolphins game eclipsed the combined average viewership of all five NBA games (21.8 million) while Rams-Broncos nearly matched it.

But it wasn't necessarily bad news for the NBA. Its top draw was its ABC broadcast of the Boston Celtics' win over the Milwaukee Bucks, which averaged 6.08 million viewers. The other four NBA games across ESPN and ABC drew between 2.52 million (Suns-Nuggets) and 4.75 million (Grizzlies-Warriors) viewers, per SMW.

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Despite the gulf between itself and the NFL, the numbers showed an improvement for the NBA over last season. The average viewership across the five games of 4.31 million marked a 5.3% increase from 2021's average of 4.08 million, according to SMW. The Bucks-Celtics game saw a 9% increase in average viewership over the Warriors-Suns game in the same window in 2021.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 25: Baker Mayfield #17 of the Los Angeles Rams looks on before the game against the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on December 25, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
A bad Broncos-Rams game virtually matched the combined viewership of 5 NBA games, but it wasn't all bad news for the Association. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

This year and 2021 both saw drops from 2020, when the NBA averaged 4.47 million viewers on Christmas. But those games marked the NBA's delayed season opener amid the COVID-19 impacted sports calendar.

For the NFL, the numbers reinforce its dominance of American sports. Will they encourage to league to continue playing on Christmas day? While Sunday's was the league's first Christmas triple-header, it marked the third straight Christmas with NFL football.

The league played a double-header in 2021 when Christmas fell on a Saturday. It played a single game in 2020 when Christmas fell on a Friday. 2019 marks the most recent Christmas without an NFL game.

With a bad game between bad Broncos and Rams teams virtually matching the combined viewership of all five NBA games, there's no reason to think there won't be more NFL games on Christmas moving forward.