Sports on TV: PGA viewership declines despite drama; Preakness ratings stumble

Sports on TV: PGA viewership declines despite drama; Preakness ratings stumble

Sunday’s wild PGA Championship final round, which saw leader Mito Pereira dramatically stumble with a double bogey on the 18th hole and Justin Thomas rally from seven strokes down to win in a playoff with Will Zalatoris, averaged 5.27 million viewers on CBS.

That’s down from the average of 6.5 million who watched Phil Mickelson win his sixth major last year – prior to his subsequent reputational self-immolation – at the same event, making him golf’s oldest major winner at age 50.

Mickelson and Tiger Woods long have boosted TV audiences, particularly when they’re in contention at majors. At Southern Hills in Oklahoma on Sunday, Woods withdrew after his 79 the day before tied him for last place, and Mickelson has benched himself in the wake of his comments favoring Saudi Arabia’s Super Golf League.

When Thomas won the PGA Championship in 2017, the final round averaged 4.9 million, the lowest final-round audience since that same total in 2012. On Sunday, viewership increased to 9 million for the 45 minutes of the playoff, peaking at 9.3 million from 7:15 to 7:30 p.m.

Reminder: Prior to 2020, Nielsen audience data didn’t include out-of-home viewership, which is people watching at other homes, bars, restaurants, etc., so major live sports events in the past very likely had bigger audiences that what’s reported.

PGA Championship final round viewership

YEAR VIEWERSHIP WINNER
2022 5.27 million Justin Thomas
2021 6.5 million Phil Mickelson
2020 5.2 million Collin Morikawa
2019 5.0 million Brooks Koepka
2018 8.5 million Brooks Koepka
2017 4.9 million Justin Thomas
2016 5.3 million Jimmy Walker
2015 6.7 million Jason Day
2014 8.2 million Rory McIlroy
2013 5.5 million Jason Dufner
2012 4.9 million Rory McIlroy

HORSE RACING: Without the possibility of a Triple Crown bid, Saturday’s Preakness Stakes saw its viewership slide to 5.26 million on NBC watching Early Voting hold off favorite Epicenter to win at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.

The race peaked with 6.6 million viewers from 7 to 7:15 p.m., the network said.

A year ago, Rombauer’s victory averaged 7.0 million viewers with a peak of 8.6 million. That race included Medina Spirit, who had tested positive for an anti-inflammatory steroid that is banned for use within two weeks of a horse’s race – a situation that may have sparked an uptick in Preakness viewership.

Overall, Saturday’s race audience was in line with 2019, which was the last Preakness without a Kentucky Derby winner in the field. Early Voting won’t run in next month’s Belmont Stakes, which means the third leg of the Triple Crown races likely will lose some TV audience, too.

Even without a Triple Crown drama, the race is still doing better with audiences than during the COVID-19 disruption of live sports two years ago. In 2020, the Preakness was held in October instead of its normal May slot a couple of weeks after the Kentucky Derby, and it averaged a record-low 2.36 million viewers. That was down from 2019’s 5.41 million average, per Sports Media Watch.

The Preakness averaged 7.9 million viewers in 2018 when Justify won the second leg of his eventual Triple Crown title.

This year’s Belmont Stakes is on NBC and Peacock from 5 to 7 p.m. June 11 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. Earlier races will be shown live from 3 to 5 p.m. on CNBC.

SOCCER: Manchester City won the Premier League for the fourth time in five years on Sunday, and its match that day with Aston Villa – a 3-2 comeback victory – averaged 955,000 TV and streaming viewers for NBC, the network said.

For the season, NBC Sports said its Premier League telecasts averaged 507,000 linear and streaming viewers across NBC, USA Network, CNBC, and NBCSN. That’s the best average in six years.

Last season’s average of 414,000 didn’t include Peacock or Spanish-language telecasts, NBC said.

A dozen matches averaged at least 1 million viewers on NBC platforms, the network said, which breaks the record of eight in 2020-21 and 2015-16.

On Sunday, NBC’s various channels and streamers aired all 10 Premier League matches as clubs vied for the championship, the top four positions to qualify for the next Champions League group phase, and the bottom three positions on the table that are relegated to the lower division.

The matches averaged 2.2 million viewers, which the network said matched the 2019 “Championship Sunday” viewership record.

PLAYOFFS: The NBA and NHL playoffs continue their march toward their respective finals. Top audiences last week included 7.41 million for TNT on Sunday for the late-start Golden State Warriors victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals. The first two games of the series averaged 6.51 million on Wednesday and 6.76 million on Friday (both on TNT).

The Warriors, the NBA’s TV darling this season, are up 3-1 in the series. Game 5 is at 9 p.m. Thursday on TNT.

The Boston-Miami series in the Eastern Conference finals isn’t far off. Saturday night’s Game 3 on ABC averaged 6.8 million viewers, while Tuesday evening’s Game 1 earned 6.07 million on ESPN and 6.04 million for Game 2 on Thursday (also ESPN).

Boston-Miami is knotted at 2-2 with Game 5 at 8:30 p.m. tonight on ESPN.

In hockey, the only playoff game last week to top 2 million was Friday’s Rangers-Hurricanes Game 2 on ESPN. Game 1 of that series on Wednesday averaged 1.65 million, while Sunday’s Game 3, which saw the Rangers break through, averaged 1.21 million on ESPN.

The most-watched game from any other series was 1.56 million on Saturday primetime for Colorado’s win over St. Louis on TNT.

USFL: There was expected but still ominous news for the Fox-owned USFL when Disney announced that it will air XFL 3.0’s games next spring on ABC, ESPN, FX, and ESPN+ under a multi-year deal whose financial terms were not disclosed.

The Mouse-owned channels and platforms will air 40 regular-season games and three playoff games.

Is there room in the spring for two developmental pro football leagues? It appears we’re going to find out.

The USFL also has NBC as a broadcast partner, which helps the network fill its post-NHL springtime lineup and populate its Peacock streaming service.

While the XFL, which failed in 2020 because of the pandemic-fueled halt to live sports rather than because of TV ratings, is privately owned by The Rock and his business partners, the USFL is owned and funded to the tune of $150 million by Fox.

Despite the promotional hype, the leagues exist to fill out thin springtime broadcast slots that are not populated with MLB, NBA, NHL or soccer games. That’s because the spring leagues are a lower-tier product, with no interest in trying to be an NFL alternative and so shouldn’t be judged against the major leagues. And until any of the networks disclose their success metrics, it’s anyone’s educated guess on what will keep them on the air or doom them to the chopping block.

So far in its inaugural season, the USFL – named for the nostalgia-beloved 1983-85 league but otherwise unrelated to it – has seen mixed results with TV audiences. Some games, particularly on cable have had fewer than 300,000 viewers. Others have topped 1 million.

This past weekend was a textbook example: The Pittsburgh-New Orleans game at noon Sunday averaged 281,000 on FS1 while the primetime game on Saturday between Michigan and Birmingham averaged nearly 1.2 million on NBC. Saturday’s 1 p.m. Tampa Bay-Philly game, also national on NBC, averaged 785,000, while the late afternoon Sunday game between Houston and New Jersey averaged 665,000 on Fox.

All of the USFL’s games are being played this season in two Birmingham stadiums, a cost-saving move with the stated intention of moving teams into home markets in the future.

AUTO RACING: The Indy 500 airs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday on NBC from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Six-time overall IndyCar Series championship winner Scott Dixon earned the pole position for the fifth time thanks to a record-setting qualifying run last weekend that averaged 234 mph. He won the iconic race from the pole position in 2008.

All viewership data is from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics, and other metrics via the TV networks, Nielsen, Sports Media Watch, ShowBuzz Daily and the leagues. All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.

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