Friday, August 20, 2010

The Definitive Sports TV Ratings Post

UPDATE: For more info, please refer to the most recent edition of this post.

OK, not quite. But "The Definitive Sports That Aired in Broadcast Primetime in 2009-10 TV Ratings Post" didn't have as nice a ring to it.

I am, like millions upon millions of other Americans, gearing up for football season, and that got me thinking I've never said too much about sports ratings around these parts. Personally, I always look at these shows individually when the ratings come out, but have never really looked at them together. Let's start with the two regularly scheduled sports franchises in broadcast primetime and the one cable one with ratings that easily could be a part of broadcast primetime.
  • NBC's Sunday Night [NFL] Football averaged a 7.88 demo in its 17 airings, which include 16 regular Sunday airings and the premiere on Thursday.
  • ABC's Saturday Night College Football averaged a 2.19 demo in its 10 weeks. I didn't include the Big 12 Championship Game the next Saturday in this average. (If you think I should, it pulled a 4.0 and would up the average to 2.35.)
  • ESPN's Monday Night [NFL] Football averaged a 5.82 demo in its 17 airings, which again span 16 of the NFL's 17 total weeks (with a doubleheader in week 1 and no game in week 17). All you have to do is look at any of my War of 18-49 Battlegrounds posts to know this cable franchise beats almost everything in broadcast primetime.
*- Average note - most of my averages attempt to fairly weigh episodes of differing lengths, but that is way too much work for sports, so each game gets averaged equally. Just a heads-up.

So that's how 2009 in the NFL shaped up, as something of a preview of how big regular season football will undoubtedly be again this fall. What I'm going to look at next is the championships. Those are a good way of comparing the sports because all of the big four sports in the US get championship airings in broadcast primetime.

So this represents the last several airings of the major non-NFL sports. I'll briefly explain them one-by-one just because they're all kinda unique in how they play out.

NBA (pro basketball): The NBA has a best-of-seven finals and went the full seven with a good matchup (Celtics/Lakers) this season. You can really see on its line the power of having a seventh, absolutely decisive game, as it jumped from a 7.1 in Game 6 to an 11.4 for that final game.

College basketball: College basketball is a single-elimination tourney, so the five data points above are the two Regional Finals (national quarterfinals) that aired at least partly in primetime, the two national semifinals (Final Four), and the championship game. The title game's 8.2 rating was almost double the numbers that came before it.

College football: Unlike the other sports, the data points for college football aren't "serialized," but rather a combination of one-shot games with no advancement. The above comprise the Bowl Championship Series, starting with the high-rated Ohio State/Oregon Rose Bowl, declining for much less interesting matchups, and ending with the 10.5 A18-49 for the national championship game between Alabama and Texas.

Major League Baseball: Like the NBA, baseball has a best-of-seven finals (The World Series) which went six games total in fall 2009. The final game got a 7.4, not nearly the spike for that series in the sixth, maybe decisive game that the NBA got in its seventh.

National Hockey League: Also a best-of-seven, but the wrinkle here is that the final series doesn't entirely air on broadcast, with games 3 and 4 shipped off to cable network Versus. The Stanley Cup Finals' sixth and final game hit a 3.2 demo.

National Football League: I didn't include the NFL because I don't have as much data as I would like, and also because its numbers would scrunch the above chart into a big blob at the bottom. But for reference, the NFC Championship game got a whooping 21.3/49 demo, the AFC Championship was pretty close to that (had a little over 85% of the household rating, didn't see a demo because it was out of primetime) and the Super Bowl on 2/7/10, of course, was the most-watched event ever with 106.476 million viewers and a 38.6/75 demo. That puts it well over thrice as large as the next biggest sports' finales.

In conclusion, any sports fan who's ever looked at sports TV ratings knows that within any given year, the matchups play a big role. But it seems pretty fair to say that four of the six sports are in the same general area down the championship stretch, with maybe college basketball and some of the lesser BCS games lagging a little behind. The NFL stands head and shoulders ahead of the others, while hockey, despite improvements this year, still has a ways to go to catch up to the others. I may look at some more historical ratings (including Olympics) in the future if motivated, but for now I hope this is interesting/helpful!

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