It may have been a rough season for primetime TV, but sports programming is seeing major ratings gains just in time for the Olympics.
Television audiences for almost every major sporting event this spring — from the Stanley Cup Finals to the US Open Golf championship — grew, which should be a delight to NBC Universal as it prepares to run 1,400 hours of coverage of the Summer Olympics from Beijing (in addition to another 2,200 hours to be streamed online).
"We worry that all sporting events over the past several years have had a decline in their big events," NBA Commissioner David Stern told the New York Times recently. "To see that reversing, where it was reversed this year in the Stanley Cup, it has been reversed in our playoffs, in our conference finals in double digits, and it's going to be reversed in our finals in double digits, we would like to see all sporting events do better."
Below is a list of the sports ratings successes over the past two months:
- Kentucky Derby: Most-watched race since 2004
- Belmont Stakes: 169% increase over last year, most watched since 2004 (though Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid in 2004 drew 5 million more viewers than Big Brown's)
- Stanley Cup Finals: Doubled last year's ratings, highest since 2002
- US Open Golf Championship: Sunday's ratings up 17% over last year's final round (which itself was up 36% from 2006); Monday's playoff saw 90% increase over last US Open Monday playoff*
- NBA Finals: Series up 50% over last year, Game 6 biggest audience since 2000
The increases in ratings for sports programming are one of the few reasons network executives have to smile after a dismal television season and a disappointing May sweeps. Every network except Fox saw ratings decline, and even one of Fox's signature series, "American Idol," showed signs of trouble (the show premiered to its lowest ratings in four years, lost viewers week to week, and continually saw ratings lows, prompting Fox executives to begin considering major changes to the show's format).
*The recent golf ratings surge is so tied to Tiger Woods, Variety's Stuart Levine reports, that networks are extremely worried about his recent injury, which will sideline him for six to eight months. Read more here.