Ratings Roundup: 16.5 Million Viewers Witness Hectic Finish, Disqualification of Maximum Security at the 145th Kentucky Derby

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, drama at the Kentucky Derby grabs 16.5 million viewers, the NFL Draft in Nashville concluded with impressive numbers, NBCSN enjoys a prosperous April in ratings that are headlined by the most-watched first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in seven years, local NHL and NBA ratings are released, the Madden NFL 19 Championship is the most-watched live tournament in the game’s history, the NTT IndyCar Series hovers around an average of 400,000 viewers, and the inaugural draft of the Premier Lacrosse League captures attention on NBCSN.

16.5 Million Watch Maximum Security Disqualify at the 2019 Kentucky Derby 
NBC Sports’ presentation of the 145th Kentucky Derby on NBC posted multiple viewership increases and milestones, according to fast national data provided by Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

The victory by Country House in the “Run for the Roses” posted a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 16.5 million viewers across NBC and NBC Sports Digital platforms – up 10% from last year’s race (15.0 million) featuring eventual Triple Crown winner Justify, and marking television’s largest Saturday audience since the NFL Divisional Playoffs (Jan. 12, 2019). NBC Sports Digital’s presentation of the Kentucky Derby delivered a record Average Minute Audience (AMA) of 130,400 viewers for the event via the NBC Sports app and NBCSports.com.

NBC averaged 18.0 million TV-only Kentucky Derby viewers when Maximum Security and Country House crossed the finish line in the 6:45-7 p.m. ET quarter hour, before peaking at 18.5 million viewers for the dramatic post-race coverage on NBC from 7-7:15 p.m. ET.

NBC Sports has averaged at least 15 million viewers for the Kentucky Derby for seven consecutive years – the longest streak for the event in People Meter history (since 1988).

Nashville Hosts the NFL Draft Down Broadway
The 2019 NFL Draft has set new records in media consumption and fan attendance. With a combined 3.9 HH TV rating and average of 6.1 million TV and digital viewers (Nielsen Fast Nationals), the 2019 NFL Draft is the highest-rated and most-watched Draft ever, breaking records established just a year ago. In total, all NFL Draft telecasts combined to reach more than 47.5 million television viewers over the three-day event, up +5% vs. 2018. (Nielsen’s Fast Total Audience Estimates)

The extensive distribution strategy helped grow the combined rating and viewership by +11% and +8% respectively over 2018.

In addition to media consumption, the 2019 NFL Draft shattered records for attendance as over 600,000 fans fill the streets of Nashville to celebrate the newest class of NFL rookies, easily establishing a new record (250k in 2017 – Philadelphia). Many of those in Nashville not attending the NFL Draft in-person were watching from home, as the market delivered a combined for a 10.6 HH rating – up +104% versus Nashville last year, and up +74% versus the 2018 host city.

After the host city, the top ten was rounded out by New Orleans (8.3), Richmond, VA (7.7), Cleveland (7.0), Columbus, OH (6.9), Kansas City (6.8), Buffalo (6.8), Birmingham, AL (6.7), Dayton (6.7), and Milwaukee (6.6).

NBCSN Powers Through for Impactful Month of April
Buoyed by the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, a full slate of Premier League matches, and two INDYCAR races, NBCSN delivered the most-watched April in the network’s history in both primetime and Total Day, according to live plus same day data released by Nielsen, with additional digital data from Adobe Analytics.

In primetime, NBCSN’s viewership for the month increased 29% — the largest primetime growth among all ad-supported cable networks compared to April 2018, which includes the greatest increase among sports cable networks.

NBCSN, which also ranked as the #2 sports cable network in both primetime and Total Day viewing in April, averaged 663,000 primetime viewers in the month (April 1-28), up 29% from April 2018 (515,000), and 194,000 Total Day viewers, up 15% from last April (168,000).

In addition, NBC Sports Group’s Golf Channel averaged 113,000 Total Day viewers in April to rank as the #1 single-sport network for the third consecutive month.

In their Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage, the network delivered the most-watched First Round in seven years, according to Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics. First Round coverage across NBC Sports’ cable platforms produced the most-watched First Round on cable in 25 years and ranks as the second-best First Round on cable on record (since 1994). The First Round milestones were punctuated by three Game 7s, including the Hurricanes-Capitals series finale on NBCSN, which is now the most-watched First Round cable game on record.

Across NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA Network, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app, the 45 Stanley Cup Playoff First Round games averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 778,000 viewers, making it the most-watched First Round in seven years (2012; 936,000), NBC Sports’ third-most watched First Round ever (since 2006), and up 1% vs. last year (769,000).

NBC Sports’ cable coverage of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round across NBCSN, CNBC, USA Network, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app, averaged a TAD of 673,000 viewers, up 18% vs. last year (572,000) and making it the second-most watched First Round on cable on record (1994; 702,000; ESPN networks).

Overall, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs produced the most streamed First Round ever in all key metrics – 1.3 million uniques, 270.6 million minutes, and an AMA of 33,800 viewers.

Additional April highlights include:

  • NBCSN’s cable coverage of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is averaging a TAD of 930,000 viewers (through April 30), making it the most-watched cable delivery on record (since 1994).
  • The double overtime Game 7 of the First Round series between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals on April 24 averaged a TAD of 1.75 million viewers, making it the most-watched First Round game on cable on record (since 1994).
  • The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 14 averaged a TAD of 442,000 viewers on NBCSN, making it the most-watched Grand Prix of Long Beach in seven years and up 18% vs. last year.

NBC Sports Group also delivered numerous digital consumption milestones in April, highlighted by 814 million live streamed minutes – marking the most streamed April on record, up 28% from last April (636 million live minutes).

In addition, fueled by the opening of the MLB season and NHL and NBA Playoffs, April 2019 was the most-streamed month in the history of the NBC Sports Regional Networks, with 118 million total minutes streamed. NBCSRN’s MyTeams app also set April records for uniques, page views, visits and VOD starts.

Local NBA and NHL Present Conflicting Reports
SportsBusiness Daily has released the best and worst of NBA and NHL local ratings. On the ice, for the third time in four years, the Buffalo Sabres are back on top of the NHL’s local TV ratings chart. Despite missing the playoffs for the eighth straight season, the Sabres posted an astounding 75% ratings increase on MSG to finish with an 8.13 average.

The Sabres’ mark outdistanced Penguins games on AT&T Pittsburgh, which averaged a 6.38 rating, up 10% from last season. The Sabres and Penguins have posted the two biggest local ratings in each of the past 10 years. The Penguins’ local TV ratings have been tops for seven of those years.

Overall, NHL local TV ratings were essentially flat this season, dropping a combined 1%. Sports Business Journal analyzed ratings data from 22 of the NHL’s 24 U.S.-based clubs; information for Carolina and Nashville was not available. Overall, 12 teams posted ratings increases; 10 were down.

Nationally, viewership for the NHL regular season across cable, broadcast and digital platforms bounced back 2% after NBC Sports last season had its lowest audience under the current media rights deal.

The best local TV story was in Las Vegas where the Golden Knights posted a 116% increase on AT&T Rocky Mountain for their second season. The team’s games averaged a 4.05 rating — the third highest in the league.

Other playoff teams saw significant jumps. The Colorado Avalanche, which made the playoffs for the second straight year, had a 49% increase on Altitude. The New York Islanders, who had the league’s fifth-best record, saw their ratings increase 41% on MSG+. That ratings gain followed a 21% increase the previous year.

The New Jersey Devils finished with the league’s third-worst record and posted the biggest percentage decline and lowest rating. Devils games on MSG+ fell 59%. The team’s 0.24 rating was the league’s lowest.

The Los Angeles Kings saw a similar drop-off — both on the ice and on TV. Kings games on FS West dropped 35%— the league’s second-largest decline — and the team’s average 0.35 rating is the league’s fourth worst.

On the hardwood, there were huge drops in two of the NBA’s three biggest television markets and contributed to an overall 4% decline in the league’s local ratings this season.

The New York Knicks (down 38% on MSG) and Chicago Bulls (down 24% on NBC Sports Chicago) had two of the four biggest local TV ratings decreases this season. The Bulls’ 1.36 rating is the team’s lowest in 13 years.

The biggest ratings decline came in Cleveland where the departure of LeBron James from the Cavaliers caused Fox Sports Ohio ratings to drop 58%. Conversely, James’ new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, posted a 31% ratings increase on Spectrum SportsNet — the team’s highest since 2013.

Sports Business Journal analyzed regular-season ratings data for 28 U.S.-based NBA teams. Overall, 15 teams posted local ratings gains during the regular season, 12 saw decreases and one remained unchanged. Information for Memphis and Toronto was not available.

On a national level for the regular season, the NBA saw a drop in viewership as well, with James’ move out West, his subsequent injury and some decline in interest around the Golden State Warriors contributing to the drop. Game telecasts across ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV in 2018-19 (1.2 million average viewers) were down 5% from last season, which was the best audience since the 2013-14 season. NBA games this season were still up 3% from two seasons ago. Individually, each network saw a drop for 2018-19.

The regular-season decline spilled into the first two weekends of the NBA playoffs. The audience for telecasts across TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV — 2.66 million viewers — was the lowest figure since at least 2011, when NBA TV numbers were first publicly available. Playoff games were down 18% compared with the same point last season. The absence of James in the postseason affected the numbers, as did head-to-head competition with the Masters on the opening weekend of the playoffs.

The defending NBA champion Warriors had the league’s highest local rating, posting a 7.42 on NBC Sports Bay Area. Still, this year’s rating was down 11%, suggesting that “Warriors fatigue” could be affecting the team’s ratings. This marked the third consecutive season that the Warriors’ local ratings declined. The team has led the league in local ratings for each of those three seasons.

Nationally, TNT carried 12 regular-season Warriors games, averaging 1.9 million viewers, which was down 25% from last season (also 12 games) and down 28% from two seasons ago (10 games). But on ESPN, the 13 Warriors games (2.04 million viewers) were up 1% from a season ago, but down 6% from two seasons ago.

The biggest local ratings increase came in Dallas where the Mavericks saw an 88% jump on Fox Sports Southwest, fueled by the emerging stardom of Luka Doncic and the final season of future hall of famer Dirk Nowitzki.

The on-court success of the Nuggets drove a 74% ratings gain on Denver’s Altitude Sports, the second-highest increase.

The Milwaukee Bucks, (a 3.1 rating), Philadelphia 76ers (2.7) and Utah Jazz (6.6) each delivered their highest ratings dating to 2003.

The lowest ratings came in Brooklyn where the playoff-bound Nets drew a 0.46 rating on YES Network. The good news for the Nets is that despite the league-low numbers, regular-season ratings increased by 22%.

Madden NFL 19 Championship
The EA SPORTS Madden NFL 19 Championship Series event, Madden NFL 19 Bowl, smashed franchise media consumption records solidifying its place in the mainstream esports lexicon.

Madden NFL 19 Bowl’s Twitch audience peaked at 97,000 viewers, a 650% annual increase, and the stream generated more than 2.5 million views, an 850% year-over-year increase. The ESPN2 broadcast of the one-hour final had a total reach of 805,000 viewers, and combined Madden NFL 19 Bowl Twitch and ESPN2 broadcasts secured a 208,000 average minute audience during the final, which tracks average minute-by-minute viewership. To reach more Madden NFL and esports fans, the broadcast plan for Madden NFL 19 Bowl included Twitch integration, a primetime ESPN2 linear broadcast, strategic stream embeds through fan site partnerships and connecting through community channels.

The success of Madden NFL 19 Bowl comes on the heels of Madden NFL 19 Championship Series event successes as both the Madden NFL 19 Classic and Madden NFL 19 Club Championship also secured double-digit growth in viewers on digital platforms. The success of the Madden NFL 19 Championship Series reflects the commitment of the National Football League to esports as a way to spread the passion around the sport of football and draw a deeper connection to the NFL, its clubs and players.

Six Figure Average for the NTT IndyCar Series
With St. Petersburg, Circuit of the Americas, Barber and Long Beach complete, NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series is averaging a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of nearly 400,000 viewers (397,000) across NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app, up 21% vs. its first four races of 2018 (327,000) and NBCSN’s second-best start to a season in eight years, according to Nielsen and Adobe Analytics.

Inaugural Season of the PLL Begins With Many Eyes on the Draft
NBC Sports’ presentation of the inaugural PLL College Draft on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 168,500 viewers, according to Nielsen, and reached a TV-only audience of 210,000 viewers.

The inaugural 2019 PLL season spans 14 weeks, with stops in 13 major-market cities nationwide. Games will be shown on a combination of NBC, NBC, NBCSN, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app, and NBC Sports Gold. Click here for the full television and live streaming schedule.