Ratings Roundup: MLS Is Back Notches Big Opener; NBC Scores With NASCAR-IndyCar Doubleheader

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 MLS Is Back Tournament opener Nets ESPN big viewership, NBC Sports draws a big crowd for its first NASCAR race of the season, CBS Sports continues to tee up big viewership for the PGA Tour, and much more.

MLS Is Back Opener Posts Big Viewership
Wednesday night’s MLS is Back Tournament opening match (a 2-1 Orlando City SC victory over in-state rival Inter Miami CF) averaged 492,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. This is the second most-viewed MLS regular-season telecast (over 64 matches) on ESPN networks since March 11, 2018, when 583,000 people (2+) tuned in for DC United vs. Atlanta United; behind 663,000 combined viewers for the 2020 season-opening LAFC-Inter Miami CF match on March 1. On ESPN, the MLS is Back Tournament opener averaged 464,000 viewers – ESPN’s fifth most-viewed regular season telecast in five seasons. The audience peaked from 9:45-10 p.m. ET with 521,000 viewers. On ESPN Deportes, an additional 28,000 viewers watched.

Season-to-date, Major League Soccer is averaging 489,000 combined viewers on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, a 27 percent increase compared to the first four matches in 2019 (384,000 viewers). Orlando City SC-Inter Miami CF is ESPN’s fourth match of the 2020 MLS season. The previous three were played in early March before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports Draws Big Audience for First NASCAR Race of Season
NBC Sports’ first NASCAR Cup Series race of the 2020 season produced significant viewership gains from 2019, as the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records at Indianapolis Motor Speedway averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 4.370 million viewers – up 46% vs. same race in 2019, which ran in September (according to Fast National data by Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics). Sunday’s race, which started roughly an hour late due to weather, was also up 32% compared to last year’s NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on the comparable weekend (7/7/2019), which delivered a TAD of 3.313 million viewers.

Additional ratings highlights from NBC Sports’ first NASCAR Cup Series race of the 2020 season, include a 2.67 HH rating, up 41% vs. last year’s Brickyard (1.89 rating) and up 26% vs. last year’s race at Daytona (2.12 rating); 4.343 million TV-only viewers, up 46% vs. last year’s race (2.974 million) and up 32% vs. Daytona (3.288 million); Peak viewership of 5.018 million TV-only viewers from 8:30-8:45 p.m. ET; and 26,800 Average Minute Audience (AMA) streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, up 57% vs. last year’s Brickyard (17,000) and 9% compared to Daytona.

Viewership for the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (5:24-9 p.m. ET) was up 39% vs. the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series average on NBC (3.146 million viewers; seven races). The race also stands as NBC’s most-watched sports program since January’s NFL Divisional Playoff between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers (1/11/20; 30.210 million viewers).

Meanwhile,, viewership of Saturday’s INDYCAR GMR Grand Prix on NBC was up 7% vs. the same race in 2019, while the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 was the most-watched Xfinity race from the Brickyard in three years (1.693 million, NBCSN, 2017), up 21% vs. the series’ four races on NBC in 2019.

CBS Sports Continues PGA Tour Momentum
CBS Sports Final-Round Coverage of Rocket Mortgage Classic delivered a 56% rise in viewership over last year with 2.893 million viewers. Overall, CBS Sports’ coverage of the four PGA Tour events since the return to golf in June is up 26% in viewership over the same tournaments last year, averaging 2.386 million viewers.

Odds and Ends: Hot Dog Eating, F1, TBT, German Cup Final, and Cornhole
The socially-distanced version of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN last Saturday averaged 966,000 viewers, the smallest audience since 2005 when it received 860,000 viewers…

…Sunday’s Formula 1 opener – the Austrian Grand Prix – averaged a 0.5 rating and 752,000 viewers on ESPN, which is the largest audience for the event since it returned to the schedule in 1997…

…The opening weekend of The Basketball Tournament averaged 173,000 viewers across ESPN and ESPN2, with none of the eight games exceeding 210,000 viewers…

…Saturday’s German Cup final between Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen averaged 108,000 viewers on ESPN2, up 38% from last year on ESPNEWS (79K)…

…ESPN averaged its largest Cornhole audience this year with 349,000 viewers for Saturday’s post-Hot Dog Contest window.

Check out SportsMediaWatch’s ratings page for more in-depth coverage