Lakers' NBA title caps a lucrative month for sports business

It didn't hurt that the Lakers were up against their rivals, the Celtics, for the NBA title. But it isn't just ABC and the NBA that are scoring financially. There's hockey, golf, tennis, and the World Cup, too.

By , Staff writer

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    Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts as time runs out in Game 7 of the NBA basketball finals, Thursday, June 17, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 83-79.
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June is turning into a high-scoring month for the sports business – punctuated by the nail-biter series that made the Los Angeles Lakers NBA champions on Thursday night.

By lasting for seven games, and with a finish that hung in the balance until the final seconds, the basketball series became an ad-revenue winner for host network ABC. It didn't hurt that the Lakers were up against the Boston Celtics, making it a rematch of one of the most storied rivalries in pro sports.

“It was a terrific back and forth series,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist who follows the sports business. “It's good for the buzz … of the NBA.” Although a single event like this doesn’t catapult basketball to a new place in American hearts and wallets, the excitement came at a helpful time, when sports are struggling with some of the same economic challenges as other industries, he says.

IN PICTURES: NBA Finals riots in L.A.

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A parade through L.A. in coming days will cap the Lakers' success. But it isn't just ABC and the National Basketball Association that are scoring financially and with fans.

Consider what else has been going on this month in the world of sport:

• Hockey's Stanley Cup drew a big audience for NBC as the Chicago Blackhawks bested the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

• In tennis, Spaniard Rafael Nadal won his fifth French Open in six years, defeating the opponent who had knocked him out of the event a year earlier.

• In golf, the signature test of skill on American soil – the US Open – is now under way at one of the sport's most famous and scenic venues, a reshaped Pebble Beach course on the California coast. OK, like it or not the plot line also includes the comeback bid by a tarnished Tiger Woods, but there's some good golf happening (with final rounds on NBC this weekend).

Oh yeah, and a little thing called the World Cup is alive and kicking in South Africa. Early in the tournament, there's already been plenty of excitement along with too much noise from those weird vuvuzelas. The US team managed a 2-2 tie in a game against Slovenia Friday.

It's not clear if the soccer matches (or really "football" to most citizens of the planet) will be a financial win for the host nation, but plenty of advertisers are trying to cash in. One example: Sony, which gets exposure when people click for video clips on the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) website. The US broadcasting is largely on ESPN, which is in the same corporate family as ABC.

The Lakers-Celtics championship was a showcase for some great basketball, pitting L.A.stars like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol against the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. By going a full seven games, the series raked in extra ad revenue for ABC. And although Cleveland has plenty of fans sorry that the Cavaliers and LeBron James didn't make it to the final, arguably the classic rivalry between teams from the East and West Coasts helps to boost the sport's profile.

According to preliminary numbers, the final game of the NBA series had the biggest TV viewership of any NBA game since 1998, when Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls against the Utah Jazz.

Similarly, the National Hockey League basked in its Stanley Cup final. The NHL said the season was its best ever for business and that the championship drew "the largest audience across all platforms in the history of the sport."

Of course, sports can involve its share of heartbreak, too. The baseball season is having its usual share of excitement, but the sport's highest-profile moment in June was not a crowd-pleaser. A self-confessed bad call by umpire Jim Joyce stirred a frenzy of debate over whether Major League Baseball should initiate wider use of instant replays to reduce the potential for game-changing mistakes by the umps.

In this case, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga saw what would have been the 21st "perfect game" in the sport's history (no batter gets on base for the opposing team) in the sport's history.

And even basketball – and the Los Angeles area – was sorry at the passing of legendary coach John Wooden, who led UCLA to 10 national championships.

As an economic force, sports are a huge business – generating $213 billion in value in the US alone, by one estimate. Basketball continues to rank lower than football or baseball in popularity among Americans. But behind soccer, it's one of the most popular sports globally.

IN PICTURES: NBA Finals riots in LA

Related:

NBA Finals MVP: Kobe Bryant says this championship is the 'sweetest'

Lakers parade 2010 after NBA Finals Game 7 with the biggest global audience ever

World Cup stadiums: What's with all the empty seats?

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