The Belmont Stakes garnered its lowest TV rating in 24 years earlier this summer, making it predictable the Kentucky Derby would see similar declines.
Nielsen reports last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby drew 8.3 million linear viewers on NBC, averaging a 4.8 rating which according to Sports Media Watch, was the race’s smallest number on record going back to 1988. It was a massive drop from last year’s Derby, which saw 16.3 million viewers tune in on average, good for a 9.4 rating.
While the 49% decline is stark, sports ratings have largely been down since returning from the COVID-19 hiatus and the Kentucky Derby’s TV audience was actually one of the largest in recent months. NFL aside, the Derby was the third sports telecast to rate 4.0 or better this year, with the Daytona 500 and NBA All Star Game being the other two. Other than the NFL Draft, the Kentucky Derby is the highest rated post-coronavirus American sportscast.
Still, 49% is steep and depicts a common trend of declining ratings for sports that shifted their schedule because of the global pandemic. Detractors have continued to cite the NBA’s social stances and support of Black Lives Matter as a reason for their recent ratings dip. But horses and jockeys have steered clear from politicizing the sport, which illustrates that the low ratings in sports have more to do with shifted seasons than a social stance.
Monday Night Football Audience Continues Year Over Year Growth
“One factor that ESPN didn’t have last year that is helping them in 2021 is the Manningcast.”
The national NFL audience can’t get enough of ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Year-over-year numbers went up again this week for the network’s premier football property.
The battle between Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams and Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers was the network’s second-most-watched Week 10 game since 2012, with 12.3 million viewers across all platforms.
Week 10 represented the eighth consecutive week of year-over-year growth (3% increase from 2020 Week 10). The property’s ratings as a whole are up 15% from 2020 and 7% from 2019.
NFL fans are coming back to support the league in force after a multitude of factors kept them away from their TVs in 2020. The pandemic played a role, as did the limited number of fans attending each game. No one has been able to succinctly nail down why numbers were so down across all sports in 2020.
One factor that ESPN didn’t have last year that is helping them in 2021 is the Manningcast. Peyton and Eli are a roaring success with their version of Monday Night Football airing on ESPN2.
Ratings were down a bit for the Monday night Manning telecast this week, but they seem to be leveling out at a record-breaking median for ESPN. The brothers notched 1.554 million viewers in their first game where they didn’t interview any active NFL players. The Manningcast has delivered the five most-watched alternate telecasts in ESPN history since the network debuted them in 2014.
Peyton and Eli caught wind of the Manningcast curse and tried to throw it off-kilter, at least for one week. Every active NFL player to appear on the Manningcast has lost their following game.
“If somebody at ESPN said well the Madden curse, players kept doing it no matter what,” Peyton described on The Steam Room podcast. I said that’s because they were getting paid. If you get paid, you don’t care about a curse. Last time I checked, we are not paying anyone to come on the show. Obviously, I hope it is not true. Right now, it is what it is.”
We’ll find out if NFL players are returning to the show when Omaha Productions unveils the next guest list.
FOX Adds Darryl Johnston, Mike Pereira To USFL Executive Team
“The league is comprised of eight teams, playing a ten-game schedule that begins in April 2022.”
The USFL is making a return and the league just unveiled its executive team for the restart in 2022. FOX Sports is leading the charge for this new league as some of its voices join the leadership group.
The founder of the Spring League, Brian Woods, is the USFL’s president of football operations.
“I’m extremely passionate about football and the opportunity to work with FOX Sports and to launch the new USFL in 2022,” Woods said in the announcement press release this past June. “We look forward to providing players a new opportunity to compete in a professional football league and giving fans everywhere the best football viewing product possible during what is typically a period devoid of professional football.”
FOX football analyst Daryl Johnston is serving as Executive Vice President of football operations. While former NFL vice president of officiating and FOX Sports’ NFL and college football rules analyst Mike Pereira will act as the new league’s head of officiating. Finally, FOX Sports’ Edward Hartman is taking the role of executive vice president of business operations.
“We are extremely fortunate to have this extraordinary team of experienced executives to guide the new USFL’s development as we move towards launch this spring,” said FOX Sports CEO and executive producer Eric Shanks. He is serving as chairman of the USFL’s board of directors. “I am confident Brian, Daryl, Mike, and Edward have the passion, experience, and commitment we need to get the job done, so come April, we will offer a compelling, high-quality game of professional football that fans will embrace.”
The league is comprised of eight teams, playing a ten-game schedule that begins in April 2022. With the power of FOX Sports behind it, the reincarnated USFL has a chance to survive. FOX is serving as a broadcast partner.
The XFL got off the ground last spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic crushed any momentum that the league had. FOX and the USFL are hoping for a different result this time around.
NFL Sees Major Ratings Growth In Local Markets
NFL ratings are up majorly throughout most local markets this year compared to the 2020 season.
The NFL is over half way through their regular season, so it is a good time to start comparing this season to the previous year. We have already looked at the NFL on a national level. Viewership is up tremendously over last year. So how are individual markets doing so far this season?
Per the Sports Business Journal, NFL ratings are up significantly throughout most local markets this year compared to the 2020 season. 21 out of 32 teams are up in their local markets from last year, with the Los Angeles Chargers leading the way.
The Pacific and Mountain time zones are leading the charge, as the Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, and the Arizona Cardinals are among the 6 highest percentage growth from last year.
Only 11 teams in the league have dropped in viewership, with the worst of those being the Houston Texans at a 17 percent decrease. That is not incredibly surprising considering they are 1-8 so far this year.
Most of the teams in the top 10 are among those who are the most successful this year, with the Carolina Panthers as the exception with a 16% increase despite having a 5-5 record.
It seems that the NFL is keeping fans happy this season and eager to come back week after week. While there are some exceptions from struggling markets, there is plenty for the league to celebrate.
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