How Steph Curry, LeBron James and the NBA Stole Christmas

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  • The average ticket for the Warriors-Cavs on Dec. 25 costs $517
  • Christmas draws the NBA's biggest, regular-season TV audience

The Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Golden State Warriors on Friday for their first meeting since Cleveland lost at home in Game 6 of the 2015 Finals. The rematch, which also happens to pit basketball’s two hottest stars, lands on Christmas -- and the NBA put it there for a reason.

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes up against Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes up against Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
Photographer: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For a while now, the NBA has been trying to make Christmas as much about basketball as it is about Santa. The sustained campaign appears to be working. On television, Dec. 25 has become the most popular day of the regular season with more than 30 million people tuning in to watch, according to the league. And the average ticket for a Christmas Day basketball game costs more than double an average regular-season game on the secondary market, according to data from ticket aggregator SeatGeek.

"Once the gifts are opened and the Bloody Marys are poured, there’s not much else to do," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at San Fransisco-based Baker Street Advertising. "The NFL owns Thanksgiving Day, the NCAA rules New Year’s Day, there’s no reason why the NBA can’t dominate Christmas."

Some of the excitement has been engineered by programming rematches and rivalry games. The NBA has been playing Christmas Day games since 1946, but it wasn’t until the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic faced off in 1995 that the league paired its previous season’s finalists. This year will mark the sixth Christmas rematch since.

Adding more games has helped. So has more hype. In 2008, the schedule moved to its current five-game format. And for the last four years, the league has designed special Christmas uniforms. This year, the players will wear special snowflake socks, and Nike Inc. and Adidas AG will release Christmas-specific shoes. While holiday merchandise will never outsell the traditional options, sales of Christmas Day jerseys, led by Steph Curry and LeBron James, are up almost 95 percent over last year at the NBA’s online store, the NBA said.

The day has become so important that league partners now debut ad campaigns on Christmas. This year, that will include the first NBA-themed spots from watchmaker Tissot SA and Harman International. New ads will also premiere featuring the NBA’s campaign with Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, the educational arm of a group that advocates for stricter limits on firearm sales. (The group was founded by Michael Bloomberg, majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Along with watching on TV and shelling out for holiday gear, fans are leaving the homestead and going to the arenas. Tickets for the game between Curry’s Warriors and James’s Cavaliers are selling for an average of $517, according to SeatGeek. That makes it the second-most expensive NBA resale ticket of the season, after the last scheduled game of Kobe Bryant’s NBA career, April 13 at the Staples Center.

Since 2010, the average resale prices of a Christmas NBA game is $212, more than double the $82 average for non-Christmas games. The NFL’s Thanksgiving Day games don’t command the same kind of holiday premium, although they are more expensive. Over the same period, tickets to see a professional football game on Thanksgiving cost on average $197, 36 percent higher than the average ticket during the rest of the season.

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