Last night’s NBA Finals game between the Heat and Mavericks earned a 12.6 overnight rating.This number is down slightly from last year’s Game 5 between the Lakers and Celtics, but is up 25 per cent from Game 5 between the same two teams in 2006.
There are legitimate explanations for me knowing this number.
I work for a website with the word “business” in its name. I follow people on Twitter who discuss such things. I look up the So You Think You Can Dance ratings each morning and sometimes stumble upon the NBA number.
But there’s no rational explanation for why I care about this number.
Here’s my theory why I do:
With sports, the reality of the live event is prominent in our imaginations.
We’ve played the games the people on the screen are playing. We’ve been to arenas that are roughly the similar to the ones we see on the screen. We’ve seen live games unfold similarly to the way the one on TV is unfolding.
We can visualise the game taking place right in front of us.
The result is a stronger connection between us and the game.
No, we aren’t actually there. But we experience it. We are somehow a part of the game.
And as with anything we experience first-hand, we care about the number of people we share that experience with.
It matters how many people went to the same protest rally, inauguration, or frat party as us. Just as it matters how many people shared our experience watching Game 5 on TV.
Placing importance in TV ratings gives the viewer an idea of exactly what his or her experience watching the game meant in a cultural sense.
Ratings let them know if it was familiar or rare, historic or merely popular.
I’ll watch Game 6 on Sunday for the all the reasons I watch sports: the uncertainty, the tension, the narrative arcs, the extra-human athleticism.
And on Monday morning I’ll look up the overnight rating and irrationally let that affect what I watched.
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