Television ratings for the 2018 American Triple Crown races did not stack up favorably with those of previous years, yet a compare and contrast with other 2018 May and June sports events yields a more optimistic conclusion.

First, a review of the TV ratings for the just-completed Triple Crown races:

  • The Kentucky Derby experienced its lowest rating in 12 years with a metric of 8.5 and an audience of 14.9 million viewers.
  • The Preakness Stakes had a television rating of 4.9 and 7.9 million viewers, the second-worst performance since NBC acquired the TV rights in 2001.
  • The Belmont Stakes earned a rating of 8.1 with an audience of 12.7 million viewers (compared to a rating of 3.2 and an audience of 4.9 million in 2017 when no Triple Crown was on the line.)  The number of viewers for the 15-minute segment of the telecast encompassing the actual race increased to 15.3 million.  When American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, the television rating was 12.3.

Sports Media Watch provided insightful historical context for the 2018 rating for the Belmont telecast by pointing out that…”it is not unprecedented for a sporting event to fall off after the end of a long drought [referring to American Pharoah’s Triple Crown feat in 2015 that ended a 37-year hiatus].  When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, ending an 86-year drought, their sweep of St. Louis averaged 25.4 million viewers.  Three years later, their sweep in the 2007 World Series lost a third of the 2004 audience, averaging 17.1 million.”

For additional context, consider how several other May/June 2018 sporting events fared in terms of TV ratings and viewers in the United States.

  • The Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend earned its lowest TV rating since the race was first broadcast live in 1986, with a rating of 3.4 and 4.91 million viewers.  NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, held in the evening on the same day as the Indy 500, had a rating of 2.83 and an audience of 4.1 million.
  • The National Basketball Association Finals averaged a 10 rating and an audience of 17.7 million viewers, the worst numbers in 11 years due largely to a sweep of the series.
  • The closeout fifth game of the National Hockey League Finals had a rating of 3.9 and a TV audience of 6.6 million viewers.
  • The FIFA World Cup is averaging 1.86 viewers.
  • The French Open Finals in tennis had a rating of 1.1 and an audience of 1.62 million viewers.
  • The PGA’s U. S. Open had a rating on the final day of 3.6, the worst number on record for the event.  By contrast, the World Cup soccer match between Mexico and Germany earned a 4.3 rating on Telemundo.

While horse racing is a niche sport in the United States, television ratings for the Triple Crown races typically exceed the ratings for marquee events in other niche sports held in the spring of the year, including in years when a Triple Crown sweep is not possible.  Even the 2018 Preakness, which had the lowest ratings of the Triple Crown races, produced a rating and an audience size that bested the closeout fifth game of the 2018 National Hockey League Finals, and the NHL is considered to be one of the four major sports leagues in the United States.

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