Sportswriters and fans alike went out of their way to express their loathing of LeBron James‘ one-hour special last week — but that did not stop them from watching in droves.
The Decision, a one-hour special in which James announced that he would sign with the Miami Heat, drew a 6.1 U.S. rating and 9.948 million viewers on ESPN Thursday night.
Viewership peaked at 13.1 million from 9:15-9:30 PM, when James made his announcement.
The special ranks as the most-viewed non-NFL telecast on ESPN since USC/Ohio State last September (10.586 mil) and the third-most viewed non-NFL telecast on the network in the past twenty years.
Only the aforementioned USC/Ohio State game and Cubs/Cardinals in 1998 (when Mark McGwire hit his 61st home run of the season) drew more viewers, according to Sports Business Daily.
Keep in mind ESPN has aired countless marquee sporting events over the past two decades.
Only three NBA games on cable have ever drawn more viewers than The Decision did Thursday night — the 2003 NBA All-Star Game and Games 4 and 5 of the Magic/Cavaliers East Final in 2009.
Additionally, the show drew more viewers than all but two Major League Baseball games on cable (Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS and Cubs/Cardinals in ’98), and every single NHL game (on broadcast or cable) dating back to at least 1974.
The Decision also drew more viewers than every single game of the 2007 NBA Finals — James’ only appearance in the event. The clinching Game 4 of that NBA Finals drew a series-high 9.908 million viewers.
Washington, D.C., was the top ‘neutral’ market (in this case, the top market that was not considered a potential destination for James), with an 11.9 rating. As reported on Thursday, Cleveland-Akron led all markets with a 26.0, followed by Columbus (14.2) and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (12.8).