Ratings Roundup: NBC Sports Gain Immediate Success with First Two Games of the NHL Stanley Cup Final

Ratings roundup is a rundown of ratings news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, NBC Sports starts their coverge of the NHL Stanley Cup Final with Games 1 and 2, ESPN arrives at the doorstep of the company’s history with telecasts of the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, TNT of the 2018 NBA Western Conference Finals, ESPN sees viewership growth in May, and Fox Sports experiences boost throughout Atlanta Braves regular season.

NBC Sports Gears Up for Anticipated NHL Stanley Cup Final
Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night between the Washington Capitals and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights set numerous consumption records across NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app. Alex Ovechkin scored his 13th goal of the postseason and his first ever in a Stanley Cup Final, helping the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The Game 2 TAD of 3.788 million viewers was up 16% vs. last year’s Nashville-Pittsburgh Game 2 (3.278 million) on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app, and up 47% vs. the comparable 2016 game (San Jose-Pittsburgh, 2.579 million).

NBCSN averaged a TV-only audience of 3.648 million viewers, making it the most-watched NHL game and the most-watched primetime program on the network in three years, both since the Tampa Bay-Chicago Stanley Cup Final game on June 10, 2015 (3.914 million). Game 2 now ranks as the fifth-most watched Stanley Cup Final game on NBCSN (25 games), and the network’s most-watched non-Chicago Stanley Cup Final game ever. TV-only viewership peaked at 4.701 million viewers between 10:45-11 pm ET. NBCSN ranked No. 1 in all of television in the P18-49 demo for Game 2.

Digitally, Game 2 is now the most-streamed NHL game in history with 366,000 uniques (+60% vs. 2017) and 27.0 million live minutes (+32%). Game 2 also set the streaming record for Average Minute Audience with 140,000 viewers.

Locally, both Las Vegas (19.8) and Washington, D.C., (13.4) delivered their highest-rated NHL games ever on NBCSN.

Monday night’s Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 5.279 million viewers on NBC, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app — making it the most-watched Game 1 in three years, with viewership up 7% vs. last year. The game also set local ratings records in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

The TAD of 5.279 million viewers was the highest for a Game 1 since 2015 (Chicago-Tampa, 5.586 million), the third-best since NBC Sports began broadcasting the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 (2015 and 2013, Boston-Chicago, 6.315 million), up 7% vs. last year’s Game 1 (Nashville-Pittsburgh, 4.925 million), and up 28% vs. Game 1 in 2016 (San Jose-Pittsburgh, 4.132 million). TV-only viewership of Game 1 peaked at nearly six million viewers (5.906 million).

Across NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, Monday night’s game totaled 321,000 uniques (+67%), 16.1 million live minutes (+18%), and an Average Minute Audience of 83,700 (+18%) — all up from last year’s Nashville-Pittsburgh Game 1. It is the most streamed NHL game ever in uniques.

Locally, Las Vegas delivered a 28.1 rating, which stands as the highest rating for a Golden Knights game ever in the market, surpassing Game 2’s number.

With a 16.0 local rating in Washington, D.C., Game 1 was the highest-rated Capitals game ever on the networks of NBC in the market — topping Game 2 as well.

In addition, numerous markets had their highest local rating ever for a Game 1 on NBC in which their team was not playing: Buffalo, Chicago (4.02), Dallas (2.45), Los Angeles (3.23), Minneapolis, Nashville (4.11), Pittsburgh, Salt Lake (3.30), St. Louis, and Tampa (4.02). Non-NHL markets that also set Game 1 records for NBC broadcasts were Baltimore, Norfolk (2.99), and Richmond.

ESPN and the NBA ECF
ESPN drew its second-largest NBA audience ever for the Cleveland Cavaliers victory over the Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Finals Game 7. It averaged 13,305,000 viewers, peaking with 17,463,000 viewers from 10:30-11 p.m. ET. It is the largest peak audience ever for an NBA game on ESPN.

The audience is currently only 41,000 viewers behind 2012 Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 – the Miami Heat and LeBron James vs. the Boston Celtics.

Based on Fast Nationals from Nielsen, ESPN is expected to win the night across all of television for its coverage of NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 7. Sunday night’s telecast is now the most-watched game of the 2018 NBA Playoffs across networks.

Friday night’s Cleveland Cavaliers victory over the Boston Celtics was ESPN’s most-watched NBA Conference Finals Game 6 since 2012, according to Fast Nationals from Nielsen. The telecast averaged 8,089,000 viewers and peaked with 10,336,000 viewers from 10:30-11 p.m. ET.

The game was up 42% from the last time ESPN televised a Conference Finals Game 6 – Cleveland vs. Toronto – in 2016. ESPN won the night across all of television (broadcast and cable) for Friday, May 25.

The 2018 Eastern Conference Finals on ESPN averaged 8,449,000 viewers, up 34% from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, also a Cleveland vs. Boston series. It was up 29% from the 2017 Western Conference Finals – the Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs – on ESPN.

Overall, the 2018 NBA Playoffs on ESPN (19 games) averaged 5,101,000 viewers, up 30% from 2017. It is the second-most watched NBA Playoffs ever on ESPN (back to 2003).

TNT Notices Impressive Numbers in Coverage of NBA WCF
TNT’s exclusive presentation of 2018 NBA Western Conference Finals Game 7 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets delivered the second most-watched NBA game in the history of cable television and the most-viewed NBA telecast of the 2017-18 season. Monday night’s telecast averaged 14.8 million viewers — with a peak of 18 million viewers from 11-11:15 p.m. ET — to garner the top program across all of television (cable and broadcast) over Memorial Day weekend.

The decisive WCF Game 7 telecast combined with TNT’s Inside the NBA studio show to generate the top two sports programs across all of television on Monday night. Inside the NBA averaged 5.7 million viewers for last night’s post-game show, the program’s second most-watched episode of all time.

The telecast of WCF Game 7 delivered the best rating on record (22.0 HH rating) in Houston for a Rockets game on TNT. San Francisco ranked as the top market with a 27.9 rating for last night’s telecast.

Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals still delivered big numbers for TNT.

Saturday’s Rockets-Warriors NBA West Finals Game 6 earned 9.4 million viewers on TNT — down 13% from Warriors-Thunder in 2016, the previous WCF Game 6 (10.8M). Neither conference final exceeded five games last year.

The Warriors’ bizarre win — in which they trailed by as many as 17 and yet still won by 29 — ranks as the second-most watched conference final Game 6 since 2012. That year, Heat-Celtics had 11.1 million and Spurs-Thunder 9.5 million.

Game 6 earned the largest audience of the NBA Playoffs, topping Game 5 of the series Thursday night (9.2M). Viewership peaked at 12.0 million from 10:45-11 PM ET.

TNT’s exclusive presentation of the 2018 NBA Western Conference Finals Game 5 delivered the highest-rated program across all of television (broadcast and cable) on Thursday night, based on metered market delivery.

Thursday night’s Rockets/Warriors telecast averaged 9.2 million viewers. TNT’s WCF Game peaked with an average of 12.2 million viewers from 11:15-11:30 p.m.

Overall, TNT’s coverage of the WCF series averaged 9.4 million viewers, up 51% over 2017’s Eastern Conference Finals airing on the network (Cavaliers/Celtics) and an increase of 45% vs. the 2017 WCF (Warriors/Spurs).

The 2018 NBA Playoffs propelled TNT to cable’s #1 ranking in primetime throughout the past five weeks. Over that span, TNT won the night across all of television (cable and broadcast) five times and delivered cable TV’s top program 22 times.

The 2018 NBA Playoffs on TNT, with an average of 4.9 million viewers for 42 live game telecasts, generated the network’s most-watched playoffs coverage since 2011.

Watch TNT, Turner’s TV Everywhere platform for the network, generated an all-time record for total minutes of consumption throughout the WCF series and a new single-game record for WCF Game 7.

Content published across NBA on TNT and NBA TV social channels generated a 139% gain in video views and 149% increase in engagements when compared to last year’s corresponding Conference Finals.

TNT’s Warriors/Rockets telecasts have generated double-digit increases across all core demos, including a 38% increase in People 18-34 and 35% in Men 18-34 vs. the comparable 2017 ECF games on TNT. This year’s WCF is up approximately 50% or higher across all demos vs. last year’s WCF series.

ESPN’s Activity in the Month of May
In May, ESPN’s prime-time audience was up an eye-opening 31%, in large part because of the 2018 NBA Playoffs. The network averaged 2,043,000 viewers (P2+), compared to 1,561,000 a year ago. All six key adult and male demos groups rose even more (from 36% to 39%) The prime-time viewership and each of the six key demos were at ESPN’s highest level in May since 2015.

Overall, the network’s audience rose 17%, from 618,000 to 720,000, with those six demo groups up from 12% to a high of 18%.

In the month, ESPN aired 10 games of the NBA Playoffs (including six of the seven Eastern Conference Final between Cleveland and Boston with one on ABC) and averaged 6,737,000 viewers — up +39% from May 2017 (4,851,000 viewers, nine games). Overall, ESPN’s 19 NBA playoff games averaged 5,101,000 viewers, up 30% from 2017. It was the second-most watched NBA Playoffs ever on ESPN (back to 2003).

The late-night SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt was up 62% overall in May with all six key adult and male demos up more than 50%. The May 27 edition was the most-watched since Van Pelt assumed the anchor position in September 2015 (more than 4.2 million viewers).

Atlanta Braves Add Viewers to Fox Sports Network
Atlanta Braves ratings on the FOX Sports regional networks, FOX Sports South, and FOX Sports Southeast, have produced double-digit growth year-to-date over last season. Through 56 games on the networks, the Braves are averaging a 2.85 overall household rating in the Atlanta DMA — up 43% versus the same amount of games in 2017 — and May 2018 was the highest-rated month since April 2014 (3.43 HH rating).

Braves games on the networks in May averaged a 3.22 household rating in the Atlanta DMA, up 84% versus May 2017 and up 13% versus the 2018 regular season overall.

Four of the best-performing games of the season in the Atlanta DMA took place in May:

  • Highest-rated game of the season: Thursday, May 31 vs. Washington Nationals (4.51 HH rating) on FOX Sports Southeast. It’s also the highest-rated game at SunTrust Park since the first-ever regular season game on Friday, April 14, 2017 (4.97 HH rating).
  • Highest-rated Braves LIVE pregame show of the season: Wednesday, May 30 vs. New York Mets (1.51 HH rating) on FOX Sports Southeast.
  • Highest-rated Braves LIVE postgame show of the season: Sunday, May 20 vs. Miami Marlins (3.61 HH rating) on FOX Sports South.
  • Highest peak rating of the season: Wednesday, May 16 vs. Chicago Cubs (5.73 HH rating in 10:15-10:30 p.m. ET window) on FOX Sports South.

Additionally, the 11 highest-rated games of the season were also televised in May:

  1. Thu. 5/31 (7:30 PM) vs. Washington Nationals on FSSE – 4.51
  2. Wed. 5/30 (7:30 PM) vs. New York Mets on FSSE – 4.36
  3. Wed. 5/16 (7:30 PM) vs. Chicago Cubs on FSSO – 4.18
  4. Tue. 5/15 (7:30 PM) vs. Chicago Cubs on FSSO – 3.95
  5. Tue. 5/22 (7:00 PM) @ Philadelphia Phillies on FSSO – 3.85
  6. Thu. 5/10 (7:00 PM) @ Miami Marlins on FSSE – 3.64
  7. Sat. 5/12 (7:00 PM) @ Miami Marlins on FSSE – 3.58
  8. Sun. 5/27 (1:00 PM) @ Boston Red Sox on FSSO – 3.56
  9. Sun 5/20 (1:30 PM) @ Miami Marlins on FSSO / Fri. 5/25 (7:00 PM) @ Boston Red Sox on FSSE – 3.46
  10. Fri. 5/18 (7:30 PM) vs.Miami Marlins on FSSE – 3.42