Ratings Roundup: NFL Draft Continues Primetime Rise; Stanley Cup First Round Hits Eight-Year High for NBC Sports

A weekend chalked-full of high-profile sports TV offerings delivered in the ratings game, as the NFL Draft, the continued drama of the NHL’s race for the Stanley Cup, and the tip-off of the NBA Playoffs each drew in big-time audiences.

…Despite some stiff competition from the NBA and NHL, the NFL Draft continues to impress since moving to a Thursday-Friday Primetime and Saturday format.

ESPN’s three-day live telecast of the 2012 NFL Draft (April 26-28), averaged 2.92 million viewers with a 2.0 US rating based on fast nationals. That is up slightly in rating and viewership from 2011 (1.9 US rating and 2.92 millions average viewers). Friday night’s four hours in prime time (rounds 2 and 3) averaged 2.68 million viewers on ESPN and a 2.1 household coverage rating (1.9 US rating), up 19 in rating (vs. 1.6) and 12% in viewership (vs. 2.39 million). Saturday’s day-long presentation (rounds 4-7) on ESPN/ESPN2 averaged 1.44 million viewers with a 1.1 US rating. ESPN’s prime time coverage of Round 1 on Thursday night was the network’s second most-viewed and second highest-rated draft. ESPN’s digital platforms generated an average minute audience of 78,000, a 10% increase from last year.

NFL Network set records for ratings and viewership on all three days of the and posted a record three-day average of 757,000 viewers – up 34% from 2011. The network kicked off with a record 1.44 million viewers for its coverage of Thursday night’s first round – up 38% from last year. NFL Network viewership was up 46 percent on Day 2 and 31 percent on Day 3. As for the league’s digital portfolio, unique visitors jumped 46% compared to last year…

…The Stanley Cup Playoffs look to have benefited from the new broadcast format making every game available to a national audience in the U.S. for the first time. More than 60 million individual viewers tuned in for the first round on national and RSN telecasts. In the U.S., 39 million individuals watched all or part of the first round on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC, NHL Network or an RSN, and 21.2 million watched across Canada on CBC, TSN, TSN2, RDS, RDS2 and RDSI.

NBC carried this momentum into the second rounds as its first two Conference Semifinal games over the weekend averaged a 1.7 overnight rating, the best for weekend coverage of the second round in eight years and up 6% from last year. Capitals-Rangers on Saturday and Devils-Flyers on Sunday produced the best overnight average for weekend coverage of the second round since two-game regional coverage on ABC (1.9) in 2004. Sunday’s coverage of Devils-Flyers on NBC generated a 1.9 overnight rating, up 19% compared to last year’s Red Wings-Sharks second-round game (1.6). Saturday’s coverage of Capitals-Rangers on NBC received a 1.5 overnight rating, even with last year’s Bruins-Flyers game (despite going head to head with Knicks-Heat first round NBA opener).

An average of 929,000 viewers tuned in across NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC, making it the most watched first round on record (cable data not available prior to 1994). A record average of 744,000 viewers watched on NBC Sports Network, up 16% from last year (642,000), and the highest on a cable channel in 11 years (ESPN, 745,000 in 2001). The six NBC broadcasts averaged 2.57 million viewers on, up 39% over last year (1.85 million, four games), and the most on a broadcast network in 14 years, since Fox averaged 2.76 million viewers in 1998 (two games). Overall, 30.9 million total viewers tuned in across NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC (excluding Thursday’s two Game 7s), up 29% vs. last year (23.9 million)…

Game 1 of the Knicks/Heat NBA playoff series drew a 3.8 overnight rating on ABC Sunday afternoon, down a tick from Sixers/Heat Game 1 last year (3.9), but up 15% from Bulls/Cavaliers Game 1 in 2010 (3.3). The 3.8 is the second-highest for the NBA on ABC on the first Saturday of the playoffs since the network acquired rights to the league in 2002, behind only last year. On Sunday, Game 1 between the Nuggets and Lakers drew a 3.9 overnight, down 15% from Hornets/Lakers Game 1 last year (4.6), and down 5% from Thunder/Lakers Game 1 in 2010 (4.1). The 3.9 is tied as the lowest for the NBA on ABC on the first Sunday of the playoffs since Nets/Heat Game 1 in 2005 (3.6)…

…CSN Chicago’s Bulls coverage posted a 5.81 household season average rating (approx. 203,000 households watching per game) – up 29% from last year (4.50) and up 145% two years ago (2.37). The 5.81 final regular season average on Comcast SportsNet is also the highest Bulls regular season average on any Chicago regional sports network in 14 years (since the ’97-’98 season).

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