Ratings Roundup: Five Day College Football Frenzy Looms Large for ESPN, ABC; Women’s Final Highlights US Open Competition in the Big Apple

Ratings roundup is a rundown of rating news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, the five-day long college football kickoff schedule paid dividends for ESPN and NBC, the US Open Championships conclude with Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka as champions, the 2018 NFL season began on NBC and CBS, and MLB Network sees continued growth from start to finish.

ESPN Reigns Supreme During Five-Day College Football Kickoff
ESPN’s five-day kickoff week schedule (Aug. 30 – Sept. 3) reached more than 64 million fans, 35% more fans than the broadcast and cable competition combined. Examining it closer, more fans tuned into the four games on ABC than all the other broadcast and cable networks combined. Looking at the season’s first full Saturday, throughout the course of eleven hours of game time (noon-11 p.m. ET), on average, six million fans were tuning into college football on ABC/ESPN’s networks at any given minute.

Buoyed by their college football success, ABC and ESPN won the night among broadcast and cable networks on Sunday, Sept. 2, and Monday, Sept. 3, respectively. Both networks ranked first in all key demos, including households, viewers, men 18-34, men 18-49, and people 18-34. ESPN also ranked first in men 18-34 on both Thursday, Aug. 30, and Friday, Aug. 31, among broadcast and cable competition, resulting in ESPN winning the key demographic in three of the five nights.

The cumulative success of ESPN/ABC is a result of individual game windows, as ESPN and ABC combined to air five of the six most-watched games overall and topped the competition in nearly every game window. On cable, ESPN aired the five most-watched games and seven of top eight.

Miami vs LSU (Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.) delivered a total live audience of 6,647,000 viewers, ABC’s most-watched game of Kickoff Weekend and up 41% from last season’s Sunday night presentation on ABC (West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech). The audience peaked at nearly 8,000,000 viewers late in the first half (9-9:30 p.m.), as the Tigers extended their lead to 27-3.

Virginia Tech at Florida State (Sept. 3, 8 p.m.) delivered a Nielsen total live audience of 5,640,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPNU, a 10% increase from last year’s Labor Day night game on ESPN (Georgia Tech-Tennessee).

ESPN and ABC bested the broadcast and cable competition during the Saturday, Sept. 1, late afternoon window and early game window. Washington vs. Auburn (3:30 p.m., ABC) delivered a total live audience of 5,364,000 viewers, beating the broadcast competition by 98% and 465% in the same timeslot.

Leading into the Huskies-Tigers showdown, Oregon State at Ohio State (noon, ABC) drew a total live audience of 3,610,000 viewers and Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss (noon, ESPN) delivered 1,929,000 viewers, the two most-watched games of any network in the timeslot. ABC and ESPN both topped the broadcast competition by 156% and 42%, respectively. Among its cable competition, ESPN was up 51%.

Additional Kickoff Weekend Highlights:

  • ESPN’s Networks Air Most-Watched Games First Two Night of Week 1:
    • Northwestern at Purdue (Aug. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN) drew a Nielsen total live audience of 1,763,000 viewers and UCF at UConn on the same night (7 p.m., ESPNU) earned a Nielsen total live audience 471,000 viewers, the two most-watched games of season’s first Thursday.
    • Western Kentucky at Wisconsin (Aug. 31, 9 p.m., ESPN) drew a Nielsen total live audience 1,426,000 viewers, the most-watched game on the season’s first Friday.
  • ESPN Leads the Way in Saturday’s Final Game Window: BYU at Arizona (10:45 p.m., ESPN) drew a Nielsen total live audience 1,288,000 viewers, the most-watched final game window of the season’s first full Saturday.

First Two Fighting Irish Games Soar on NBC
NBC Sports’ Notre Dame Football on NBC coverage is off to its most-watched season in eight years, producing a Total Audience Delivery average of 4.837 million viewers through its first two games.

Through two games, NBC Sports’ Notre Dame viewership on NBC is up 65% vs. the first two games of the 2017 season (Temple and Georgia, 2.923 million), and marks the best viewership since 2010 (5.360 million), when Notre Dame opened the season at home with rivalry games against Purdue and Michigan.

The 2018 Notre Dame Football on NBC campaign opened with the network’s most-watched Notre Dame game in 13 years, as more than 7 million viewers tuned in to NBC to watch the Fighting Irish defeat the then-ranked No. 14 Michigan Wolverines, 24-17, on Sept. 1 to rank as the most-watched college football game of Labor Day weekend.

The No. 8 Fighting Irish’s 24-16 win against Ball State on NBC last Saturday produced a Total Audience Delivery average of 2.473 million viewers, up 55% vs. last year’s comparable afternoon game on NBC (Temple; 1.594 million).

As for Week 2, ESPN aired the most-watched game among all networks — broadcast and cable — and, combined with ABC, three of the top four games. The two networks also shined in prime-time, as ESPN and ABC aired the two most-watched games among all the competition, and factoring in ESPN’s final game window of the day, the three most-watched Saturday night games across broadcast and cable.

Clemson at Texas A&M (7 p.m.) on ESPN delivered a Nielsen total live audience of 4,486,000 viewers, the most-watched game of the weekend and cable’s second most-watched regular season Saturday game since November 2016. The thrilling ACC-SEC matchup propelled ESPN to ‘win the night’ among all broadcast and cable networks, as the network ranked first in all key demos including: households, viewers, men 18-34, men 18-49, and people 18-34. ESPN has now ‘won the night’ among viewers twice this college football season, and led all networks in the key men 18-34 demo in four nights this season. Combined with ABC, the two networks have led in the demo five times.

Additional Tigers-Aggies Highlights:

  • Significant Audience Increases: The nearly 4.5 million viewers is up 33% from ESPN’s similar window last year, which also featured Clemson, as the Tigers hosted Auburn.
  • High Drama Peaks Audience: The audience peaked at nearly 6 million viewers as the Aggies attempted a two-point conversion to tie the game with under one minute to go (10:30 – 10:41 p.m.).
  • ESPN/ABC Lead in Prime-Time: ESPN topped the broadcast competition by 96% and its cable competition by 1035%. ABC’s Saturday Night Football Penn State at Pitt (8 p.m.) beat its broadcast competition by 43%.

Michigan State at Arizona State (10:45 p.m.) delivered a Nielsen total live audience of 2,297,000 viewers, the most-watched finale Saturday game window since October of last season (Washington at Arizona State). The viewership for the Sun Devils’ last-second victory was up 81% year over year (Boise State vs. Washington State) and was the third most-watched game Saturday night behind Clemson-Texas A&M and Penn State at Pitt.

ESPN2 joined ESPN in airing the most-watched games on cable, as the network’s airing of Arkansas State-Alabama (1,663,000 viewers) and TCU-SMU (1,076,000 viewers) were in the top five most-watched cable games in week 2. Mississippi State at Kansas State on ESPN had a Nielsen total live audience of 1,800,000 viewers, joining the aforementioned Clemson-Texas A&M and Michigan State-Arizona State games as the only games to generate a larger cable audience.

The audience for the Crimson Tide’s victory is the second most-watched game on ESPN2 since Alabama’s last appearance (Sept. 9, 2017), while the Friday night telecast was up 11% and the Saturday primetime telecast up 8%.

College GameDay Built by The Home Depot averaged 1,792,000 viewers across ESPN and ESPNU for its show from College Station, Texas, up 13% from last year’s week 2 telecast from Columbus, Ohio.

Frenzied Finish in Flushing Concludes US Open Tennis
ESPN’s presentation of the US Open Women’s Championship — Naomi Osaka shocking the legendary Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 with action on and off the court as controversy engulfed the second set — posted a 2.5 rating for the match itself and a 2.4 for the full three-hour telecast.

The rating for the compelling matchup of newcomer challenging her childhood idol is tied for the second-highest in ESPN’s entire US Open history (225 telecasts starting in 2009, exclusivity since 2015) with the 2015 Men’s Championship (Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer). The only higher overnight rating, a 2.7, was a prime-time 2015 window of quarterfinal action that included Serena playing her sister Venus Williams and Djokovic vs. Feliciano Lopez.

The 2.4 overnight rating is up 32% from last year (1.9 for Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys of the U.S.) and 79% higher than 2016 (1.4 for Angelique Kerber vs. Karolina Pliskova).

Saturday night’s rating peaked in the final quarter hour of the match (5:30 – 5:45 p.m. ET) at a 3.3.

In addition, it was the most-watched telecast this year and the most watched US Open Women’s Championship in ESPN’s four years covering the whole tournament.

As for the Men’s Championship on Sunday, September 9 — Djokovic winning his third US Open and 14th Major title over Juan Martin del Potro – posted a 1.3 rating with an average of 2,065,000 viewers. It is the most-watched US Open Men’s Championship since 2015.

Overall, ESPN presented 156 hours of television from the US Open, 13% more than the scheduled 137, thanks to late-night tennis running past the scheduled telecast window (eight nights went past midnight ET). The tournament had an average of 1,036,000 viewers (P2+), up 9% from last year (949,000) and the most for the event since 2015, ESPN’s first year of exclusivity (1,265,000).

The 10 highest-rated markets for the US Open were West Palm Beach (1.9), Washington DC (1.6), Richmond (1.4), New York (1.3) tied for fourth with Norfolk and Tampa, New Orleans (1.2), Columbus (OH) and Atlanta (1.1), and San Francisco (1.0).

NFL on CBS and NBC’s Thursday Night Football
CBS Sports’ Week 1 coverage of The NFL on CBS on Sunday, Sept. 9 scored its best opening NFL singleheader rating in three years — earning an average overnight household rating/share of 10.6/22, up +23% from last year (8.6/18) in the metered markets and was the most watched in 20 years.

CBS’ NFL pregame show, The NFL Today, also earned its best Week 1 rating since 2015 with a 2.8/7, up +12% from last year (2.5/6) in the metered markets.

The day featured regional singleheader games (Houston-New England, Buffalo-Baltimore, Pittsburgh-Cleveland, Cincinnati-Indianapolis, and Kansas City-L.A. Chargers).

The top 5 markets were:

  1. Pittsburgh 42.3/70
  2. Cleveland 39.5/62
  3. Kansas City 35.3/59
  4. Buffalo 34.6/60
  5. Boston 34.4/68

On NBC, The Philadelphia Eagles’ weather-delayed 18-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Kickoff Game Thursday night averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 19.5 million viewers across NBC TV, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL Digital platforms – making it the most-watched sporting event since the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Thursday night’s game is also the third-most watched show of any kind since the Winter Games (Academy Awards on 3/5/18 and 60 Minutes on 3/25/18).

NBC’s TV coverage registered an extremely rare viewership peak in the first quarter, due to the 45-minute weather delay, with an average of 21.7 million viewers from 9:30-9:45 p.m. ET.

Philadelphia’s victory, highlighted by Jay Ajayi’s two touchdown runs and two-point conversion rush, averaged 19.0 million viewers on NBC – more than doubling the combined primetime viewership on the other broadcast networks (9.4 million on ABC, CBS and Fox).

The Average Minute Audience (AMA) for Thursday night’s unauthenticated live stream via NBC Sports and NFL Digital platforms was 570,000 viewers – the highest ever for a game in the SNF package – and up 61% from last year’s NFL Kickoff Game (355,000).

NBC Sports Digital’s live stream of Thursday night’s NFL Kickoff game ranks as its most streamed SNF game ever. Fans consumed 108 million live streaming minutes across 2.0 million unique devices, up 31% and 55%, respectively, from last year’s NFL Kickoff Game.

Thursday night’s game (9 p.m.-12:04 a.m. ET) registered a national TV household rating of 11.2/23.

According to Sports Media Watch, the 11.2 rating is an 11% decrease from last year’s season opener.

MLB Network Programming Ratings Increase as Season Progresses
According to Cynopsis Sports, MLB Network’s studio shows have grown in viewership year-over-year from the Opening Day to the beginning of September. Notable spikes include:

  • MLB Central — 12%
  • High Heat with Christopher Russo — 49%
  • The Rundown — 25%
  • MLB Now — 19%
  • Intentional Talk — 7%
  • MLB Tonight — 3%

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