Ratings Roundup: ESPN Has Its Best Q1 Since 2017

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, ESPN has its best Q1 in five years, FOX sees an increase in NASCAR viewership, and more.

ESPN Viewership up 40% in Prime Time

ESPN’s total day viewership in the first quarter of 2022 was up 32% vs. last year to an average of 812,000 viewers (P2+), the network’s best for the first three months of the year since 2017. The increase was even more pronounced in prime time — up 40% to 2.068M viewers.

In the target demo of adults 18-49, ESPN was up 23% in total day audience and led the second-place network by 74%. In prime time, ESPN’s audience in the demo grew 36% and the advantage was more than double — up 111% — the next closest competitor.

On the strength of the weekday studio show lineup, ESPN averaged 600,000 viewers from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern, up 20% over 2021 and the best since 2017.

Event programming

ESPN’s 2022 got off to a hot start with strong performances from cable television’s annually most-watched three programs – the College Football Playoff Semifinals and Championship – and Monday Night Football including the inaugural Week 18 doubleheader and the first-ever NFL Wild Card Playoff Game on a Monday night.

In its first year, the NHL on ESPN averaged an audience 21% larger than last season’s Wednesday night games in the quarter.

The NBA on ESPN averaged 1.3M viewers, up 9% from a year ago.

Men’s College Basketball increased its audience 26% vs. the previous season. Champ Week was up 33% on ESPN/ESPN2.
The last home game for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski drew an average of 4M viewers and was the most-watched regular-season game on any network in three years.

Women’s College Basketball soared 45% over last year’s average audience. After two rounds, the NCAA Tournament audience is 15% larger than 2021.

The Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20 kicked off the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship season and was the most-watched (average of 1.353M) event of the series on cable since 1995 (Grand Prix of Brazil, 1.74M) … until it was topped a week later by the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (1.445M). Both races aired on ESPN.

The Australian Open men’s championship was up 56% from the previous year and the most-viewed since 2017.

Studio programming

Every live edition of ESPN’s flagship program, SportsCenter, was up double digits vs. 2021 (except for the 1 a.m. show, which was up 9%). The biggest increases were the 11 p.m. show (up 27%) and the 6 p.m. show (up 20%). The most-watched edition was the midnight program with an average of 550,000 viewers, up 12% from a year ago.

Weekday afternoon’s NBA Today averaged 311,000 viewers, up 32% from the time slot the previous season. It reached a new all-time high point on Thursday, Feb. 10, with an average of 544,000 viewers.

NBA Countdown averaged 523,000 viewers, a 29% increase vs. 2021.

The weekday morning show First Take was up 23% for its best first quarter since 2018. It set a show record for most-viewed show ever on Monday, Jan. 17, with an average of 918,000 people.

The weekday morning program Get Up enjoyed its best first quarter ever, up 15% from last year. On Monday, Jan. 17, it garnered its biggest audience ever with an average of 658,000 viewers.

Weekday afternoon’s NFL Live recorded its best first quarter since 2016, up 31% from 2021.

Around the Horn at 5 p.m. had its best first quarter since 2018, up 25% from a year ago.

In its 21st year, Pardon the Interruption at 5:30 p.m. was up 12% and is ESPN’s most popular weekday studio show, averaging 728,000 in the quarter.

FOX NASCAR Viewership up vs. 2021

FOX NASCAR viewership for March 20’s NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was up +3% over the equivalent 2021 race, peaking at 4,827,000 viewers.

Over 4 million viewers watched William Byron win the NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, vs. 3.9 million viewers for last year’s equivalent race (Phoenix on March 14, 2021). Viewership was up +6% over last year’s Atlanta race, which drew nearly 3.8 million viewers.

The telecast earned a 7.26 household share, up +13% vs. Phoenix last year (6.45, Race 5) and up +9% vs. Atlanta last year (6.67, Race 6)

The March 20 NASCAR Cup Series race ranked as the #2 sport of the week behind only the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The race drew an average minute audience of 31,708 on FOX streaming services.

Through the first five races of the season, FOX NASCAR viewership is up +16%, averaging over 5.2 million viewers, vs. 2021’s average of nearly 4.9 million viewers for last year’s first five races.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads next to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.

Following are the Top 5 markets for FOX’s NASCAR telecasts:

  • Greensboro — 5.5/14
  • Charlotte — 4.0/12
  • Tampa — 3.6/11
  • Nashville — 3.6/10
  • Jacksonville — 3.5/11
  • FS1 Sets Ratings Record With USMNT’s World Cup Qualifier Win

    1,036,000 viewers watched the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) defeat Panama 5-1 in March 27’s World Cup qualifying match on FS1, up +23% from the previous USMNT World Cup qualifier vs. Honduras that aired on FS1 in February.

    It was the most-watched USMNT World Cup qualifier in FS1 history vs. an opponent other than Mexico.

    Following are the Top 5 available markets:

  • Columbus — 1.43
  • Kansas City — 1.39
  • Cincinnati — 1.29
  • Salt Lake City — 1.24
  • Seattle — 1.22
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