Ratings Roundup: WNBA Opens 25th Season With Largest Audience in Nine Years; 146th Preakness Stakes Earns Most-Watched Since 2018

Ratings roundup is a rundown of recent rating news and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, the WNBA opens with its largest regular-season audience in nine years, the 2021 Preakness Stakes is the most-watched edition in three years, and more.

WNBA Opens With Top Regular Season Audience in Nine Years

The WNBA scored two of its three largest regular season audiences in the past nine years with Saturday’s opening weekend ABC doubleheader.

Saturday’s Sky-Mystics WNBA regular season game averaged a 0.39 rating and 611,000 viewers on ABC, marking the league’s largest regular season audience in nine years — since Lynx-Mercury on the opening weekend of the 2012 season, also on ABC (804K). The previous high was 599,000 for a Wings-Mercury game on ABC last summer.

Chicago’s win, which marked the Sky debut of F Candace Parker, ranks as the most-watched WNBA game of any kind since the 2018 All-Star Game (709K) and topped every WNBA Finals game since Game 5 of the 2017 series (902K). Last year’s top Finals game, Seattle’s clinching Game 3 win over Las Vegas, averaged 570,000 on ESPN.

Later in the day, a rematch of that Storm-Aces final averaged a 0.39 and 598,000 on ABC — the league’s third-largest regular season audience since 2012. The average of 605,000 for Saturday’s doubleheader surpassed last year’s opening weekend games by 25%. Last year’s opening weekend took place in late July and included Sparks-Mercury (540K) and Sky-Aces (432K) on ABC.

Saturday marked just the second WNBA doubleheader ever on ABC, which has been carrying games since 2003.

In the weekend’s only other WNBA game on Nielsen-measured TV, Fever-Liberty chipped in just 81,000 on NBA TV Friday night. CBS Sports Network, which carries several WNBA games, is not Nielsen-rated. (SportsMediaWatch)

NBC Sports’ Preakness Stakes Is Most-Watched Since 2018

The 146th Preakness Stakes averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.0 million viewers on Saturday – marking the most-watched broadcast of the event since Triple Crown-winner Justify’s victory in 2018, according to official national data provided by Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics. The 2021 Preakness Stakes TAD nearly tripled last year’s viewership (2.4 million viewers on Oct. 3, 2020) and is up 29% from the last Preakness Stakes held in May (5.4 million on May 18, 2019).

The Preakness Stakes, which peaked at 8.6 million NBC-TV viewers from 6:45-7 p.m. ET as Rombauer ran to victory.

Top Metered Markets

1. Baltimore 13.8/37
2. Ft. Myers 9.8/20
3. Louisville 9.3/20
4. West Palm Beach 8.9/21
5. Buffalo 8.7/20
6. Knoxville 7.6/14
7. Providence 7.4/17
T8. Indianapolis 7.0/18
T8. Washington, DC 7.0/20
T10. Austin 6.8/20
T10. Pittsburgh 6.8/17 (NBC Sports)

NBA Ratings

The NBA over the last two seasons has lost a quarter of its TV audience. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the 168 regular-season NBA games on ABC, ESPN, and TNT in 2020-21 averaged 1.32 million viewers, down 25% compared to the last pre-pandemic campaign two years earlier. In 2018-19, which brought an end to the four-year ratings stimulus effort that was the Warriors-Cavs rivalry, the three networks averaged 1.75 million viewers. (Sportico)

As for the first NBA Play-In Tournament doubleheader on TNT, the night was up by 60% over the network’s regular-season average. The Boston Celtics’ 118-100 win over the Washington Wizards averaged 2.5 million viewers, beating any TNT regular-season telecast since Opening Night just before Christmas. With a 6:30 p.m. ET start time, Indiana Pacers 144-117 pasting of the Charlotte Hornets averaged 1.4 million viewers. (Deadline)

NHL Viewership Down for Final Regular Season With NBC Sports

NHL games averaged a total audience delivery (TV+digital) of 391,000 viewers across NBC and NBCSN during what will be NBC Sports’ final season as a league partner after 16 years. That figure is the lowest regular-season figure for NBC Sports under the current media deal, which began prior to the ’11-12 season. This season (103 games) is just below the 398,000 averaged during the ’19-20 campaign (98 games), which finished in the fall due to the pandemic. Two seasons ago, the league averaged 424,000.

NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Hockey window averaged 508,000 viewers across 15 games, up 15% from 441,000 over 21 games last season and the best delivery for the window in four years (510,000 in 2016-2017). The Bruins-Flyers outdoor game from Lake Tahoe averaged 1.08 million viewers, marking NBCSN’s best NHL regular-season audience on record. It also was the most-viewed NHL regular-season game on cable in 19 years, dating back to Sharks-Red Wings in ’02, which averaged 1.28 million on ESPN. NBC’s top game was the Capitals-Penguins season opener with1.73 million on Jan. 17, which is the most-watched non-outdoor NHL regular-season game in three years.

NBC Sports Digital had an average audience minute of 10,800 viewers for games, marking the company’s most-streamed NHL regular season. The Lake Tahoe game was the most-streamed regular-season game on record (49,700 viewers). (SportsBusiness Journal)

Florida Panthers Post Best Regular Season on Bally Sports Florida in 17 Years

Bally Sports Florida, the network home of the Florida Panthers, announced the 2020-21 Panthers regular season finished as Florida’s highest-rated locally in nearly two decades. The Panthers posted a 0.5 HH rating average (7,852 homes) over the course of 54 regular season games. The 0.5 HH marks Florida’s best viewership number since the 2003-04 season and represents a +67% increase for the Panthers in year-over-year viewership.

Additional ratings notes:

  • The Panthers regular-season finale last night was the most-watched Panthers game of the season (0.8 HH) and most-watched regular-season Panthers game locally since 2016-17. The game peaked at a 1.2 HH over the final hour.
  • Through 47 games, the Panthers were on pace to post their most-streamed season ever between FOX Sports GO and the all-new Bally Sports app. Live streaming was at +46% year-over-year with a week remaining in the season. (Florida Panthers)

ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball Viewership Up 34% From 2020 Full Season Average 

Through six telecasts, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball Presented by Taco Bell viewership is up 34% from the 2020 full season average, according to Nielsen. The exclusive, national Major League Baseball game of the week is averaging 1,651,000 viewers, up from 1,235,000 viewers for the full 2020 Sunday Night Baseball season.

Sunday Night Baseball has experienced double-digit increases in all key demos, including among women and youth audiences. The franchise is up 51%in P18-34, 47% in P18-49, 43% in P25-54, 42% in W18-49, 37% in P12-24 and 31% in W18+.

The May 9 edition of Sunday Night Baseball, with the traditional Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves telecast on ESPN and the Statcast edition on ESPN2, averaged 1,724,000 viewers, up 40% from the 2020 full season average.

In addition, Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown – the Sunday Night Baseball pregame show – is averaging 589,000 viewers this season, which is up 144% from the 2020 Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown full season average of 241,000 viewers. (ESPN)

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