Friday, June 24, 2011

The Definitive Sports TV Ratings Post, 2010-11 Edition

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

The first one of these was one of the most popular posts I've ever done, and I think the info is definitely all worth putting in one place again! As more info on sports TV ratings becomes publicly available, I hope to be able to expand on this in future years, but for now I'm mostly going to examine the same stuff I examined last year. So let's take a look at sports that air regularly in broadcast primetime and the big sports championships from the 2010-11 season!

First, I'll return to the three regularly-scheduled sports franchises that I examined last year:

  • NBC's Sunday Night Football (NFL) averaged a 8.27 demo and 21.84 million total viewers. This includes the Thursday premiere, 16 regularly-scheduled Sunday telecasts, and a special Tuesday airing on 12/28/10 after weather delayed the Vikings/Eagles game. That demo average is up 6% from last year.
  • ABC's Saturday Night College Football averaged a 1.92 demo and 5.97 million total viewers in its 11 regular-season weeks. The demo's down 12% from last year's regular-season average. Again, I didn't include the Big 12 Championship Game, but if you throw that in the average is up to a 1.98, down from last year's 2.35.
  • ESPN's Monday Night Football (NFL) averaged a 5.85 demo and 14.58 million total viewers in its 17 telecasts (two in the first week of the season and none in the last week). That demo average is up 1% from last year's 5.82.
*- As last year, averages treat every game as if it's equal length. Will try to make note of game lengths to improve this next year.

The other thing I do in this post is look at the championships for the four major pro sports and the two major college sports. While there is more sports ratings info floating around than there was at this time last year, it's still tough to come up with true apples-to-apples comparisons among the sports before championship season. These comparisons are best because (with minor exceptions) they air in broadcast or ESPN primetime.

Here's the big chart lining up everything but the NFL, then I'll say a little more about each one:

NBA (pro basketball): The NBA was pretty clearly the strongest of the non-NFL leagues this year. It has a best-of-seven finals and went six games this year. It was another really good year ratings-wise as LeBron James played in his first Finals since joining the Miami Heat. Most games were slightly up year-to-year, though Game 6 soared near the end as the final defeat of the Heat neared. More on recent Finals history in my Recent NBA Finals Ratings post.

College basketball: As last year, the five data points pictured are the two primetime Regional Finals (or national quarterfinals), the two Final Four (semifinal) games, and the national title game. The Regional Finals and Final Four games were up (sometimes significantly) year-to-year but the uninspiring UConn/Butler final was significantly down (a 7.1 demo vs. last year's 8.2). I compiled a lot of info on the early stages of the NCAA Tournament in a Five-Spot earlier this year. That explains some of the impact of the CBS coverage spreading out among three Turner networks, though that wasn't in play by the end of the tourney, when it was again CBS-exclusive.

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 Wisconsin/TCU Rose Bowl, dipping for less compelling matchups, and ending with the 10.1 demo for the Auburn/Oregon title game. That 10.1 edged out the last NBA game as the highest rating for a non-NFL sporting event this year. (Last year, that crown went to Game 7 of the NBA Finals.) Worth noting is that the BCS made a move from broadcast to ESPN in 2011, though most of the ratings weren't drastically different year-to-year.

Major League Baseball: Like the NBA, baseball has a best-of-seven finals (The World Series). This year's Rangers/Giants matchup only went five of seven games and was much, much weaker wire-to-wire than last year's six-game series between Philly and the ratings gold New York Yankees. More on recent World Series history in my Recent World Series Ratings post.

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. This series was usually down 20%+ year-to-year across the first six games, presumably badly hurt by having a Canadian team in the finals whose Canada fanbase doesn't count as US viewership. (Game 7 was seen by more Canadians than Americans on average.) Like the NBA last year, the ratings greatly benefited in the end from having a seventh and absolutely decisive game. The 3.4 demo in game 7 was 70% higher than any other game in the series.

National Football League: Again not pictured above in large part because it would scrunch the rest of the chart into an incomprehensible blob at the bottom. The Jets/Steelers AFC Championship Game scored a 19.7/46 demo with 54.85 million viewers, and the Bears/Packers NFC Championship Game was close behind (51.9 million viewers, demo unavailable). Those both finished behind last year's enormous Brett Favre-fueled NFC Championship (21.3 demo) but not by too much. The Steelers/Packers Super Bowl once again set a most-watched-event-on-American-TV-ever record with 111.010 million viewers. It also scored a 39.9/77 demo, up about 3% from last year's 38.6/75. (More on Super Bowl ratings dating farther back in the Ten Years of Super Bowls and Lead-outs post.) So the NFL continues to rate at least three times as well as the next highest major sports league.

I talked about the year-to-year comparisons a bit above, but here's a chart of how they all did comparing 2010-11 to 2009-10:

A few notes: these do not include decisive-vs.-non-decisive game comparisons, because games tend to get inflated ratings-wise if there's a sense the series is about to end. I also flipped games 1 and 2 of the 2010 NHL results so they would line up Saturday-vs.-Saturday and non-Saturday-vs.-non-Saturday comparisons. And the football comparisons compare corresponding bowls, going Rose -> Fiesta -> Orange -> Sugar -> BCS National Championship. They aired in a different order in 2010.

So basically, it's both kinds of basketball and the NFL a little up in 2010-11, college football down and baseball/hockey significantly down. As I said last year, matchups play a big role on a year-to-year basis. The NHL in particular is murdered in terms of American TV ratings when a Canadian team makes the final.

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