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NFL, NBA telecasts fill networks' stockings with Christmas viewers

The NFL and NBA provided ratings gifts of varying degrees to the networks on Christmas Day.

Whereas Thanksgiving is the NFL’s day with a telecast tripleheader, the NBA typically dominates Christmas' sports ratings -- except when the holiday is on a Sunday.

NFL Network (US) was gifted with its best-ever audience, garnering a 6.5 rating and 14.8 million viewers in the late-afternoon window, on Dec. 25. The league-owned service’s telecast of Pittsburgh’s 31-27 victory over Baltimore to clinch the AFC North division easily surpassed the channel's previous record-holder: the 2011 Thanksgiving night match-up, which drew 10.7 million viewers.

The start of the Steelers-Ravens game this past Sunday coincided with the conclusion of the NBA Finals rematch between Cleveland and Golden State on ABC (US). The telecast, ending with a Kyrie Irving turnaround jumper and the controversial noncall against new Warrior Kevin Durant that gave the Cavaliers a 109-108 comeback win, tallied a total audience of almost 10.2 million, making for the largest Christmas NBA broadcast in a dozen years in the 2:30 p.m. ET timeslot.

The NBA broadcast, going head-to-head with the aforementioned NFL game, peaked at 11.8 million watchers between 5 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., according to Nielsen data.

Steelers-Ravens intercepted viewers from ABC’s coverage of the NBA San Antonio-Chicago affair, which tipped off at 5:30 p.m. The game averaged a 2.8 rating and 5.5 million watchers, 51% less than last year’s Warriors-Cavs contest in what is usually the best window for the NBA on Christmas.

NBC's Sunday Night Football match-up between Kansas City and Denver delivered a 10.6 rating and 21.4 million viewers, a 2% gain in ratings and 20% rise in viewership from the Week 16 Minnesota/New York Giants in 2015. Chiefs-Broncos, though, was down 16% and 11%, respectively, from a 12.6 rating and 24.0 million watchers for Green Bay-Chicago in 2011, the last time Sunday Night Football aired on Christmas Day.

The NFL games also tackled viewers from ESPN’s pair of NBA night games: Oklahoma City-Minnesota scored with 1.4 million viewers, while the Staples Center nightcap between the L.A. Clippers and L.A. Lakers registered with 1.6 million.

Meanwhile, the ESPN opener, which saw Boston top New York at Madison Square Garden, drew 3.75 million total watchers, 17% more than Miami-New Orleans in the same noon window in 2015. The telecast averaged 3.69 million watchers.