What We Can Learn From 2010’s Most Watched Sporting Events

The website Sports Media Watch does a great job consistently updating ratings of sporting events.  It’s a go-to site for anyone interested in TV sports ratings and other news tidbits.  One post there caught my eye last week.  I promise this is the last 2010 related post, it is January 7th after all!  However, the list of Top 100 Rated Sporting Events of 2010 is worth taking notice for what it means in the sports media world.  There are a few tidbits here that are worth elaborating on as we move into 2011 and analyze the ratings winners and losers in sports.  Don’t forget to click Read More to… well… read more!

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*The NFL is King… Duh!

-You probably already knew this, but the NFL is fairly popular.  It might have a good future in this country.  Regional coverage and regular season games consistently do better than the showcase events of other sports and nothing touches the Super Bowl.  65 of the Top 100 and 20 of the Top 25 sporting events belonged to the Shield.  Over 106 million for the Super Bowl, 57 million for the NFC Championship, and 31 million viewers for the Thanksgiving Day game between New Orleans and Dallas!  Those are insane numbers.  That regular season NO/DAL game even outrated the BCS National Championship Game (#10 on the list).  It’s amazing to see the numbers of how big the NFL has become.  Of course, the Saints-Colts Super Bowl was the highest rated TV show of all-time.  It warms my heart to share my favorite television moment of all-time with 106 million friends.  Can I get a Who Dat?

*The Olympics are the 2nd Biggest Sports Brand 

-What’s the only non-NFL event in the Top 7?  The opening ceremony of the Olympics… and the Gretzky Face!!!  Usually the Winter Olympics aren’t as popular as the Summer games but it was a very successful year for NBC.  Having the games in Vancouver was a boost as well as great stories like the US & Canada hockey teams, US Bobsled, Lindsey Vonn, Evan Lysacek, and curling of course!  The Olympics occupied 18 spots out of the Top 100, which was good enough for second place among sports.  Unfortunately for NBC, they lost over 200 million dollars in Vancouver despite the TV success.  I guess when you pay over a billion dollars to televise two weeks of Olympic TV, there’s a chance that could happen.  But, the great ratings should make the next round of negotiations push even higher into the billions depending on how aggressive networks want to be with the economy.  This is serious business though… the Olympics even beat American Idol!

*Soccer Up, Baseball Down
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-The World Cup in the Summer of 2010 was another ratings bonanza.  Much of this is due to the good timeslots and the promotional machine of ESPN committing to a successful airing of the tournament.  Veteran commentators like AA favorite Ian Darke and Martin Tyler made a difference too.  The final between Spain and the Netherlands was the most watched soccer game in US history and ranked 40th on the list with over 24 million viewers between ABC and Univision.  The Ghana/USA and England/USA games also made the Top 100.  It’ll be interesting to see how the next big competition, the European Championships of 2012, does in comparison.  On the other hand, baseball had only one game listed… ranked 97th! (Game 4: Rangers v Giants)  Do the Sawx and the Yanks really make that much of a difference, or is baseball on a sharp decline as a TV sport?  MLB saw an all-time low All-Star Game rating and the NFL challenge the World Series directly for the first time and win (Steelers/Saints, #77 on the list).  It’s clear that baseball needs a huge change on the telly.  Fox is out ideas and their presentation has gotten incredibly stale.  Joe Buck and Tim McCarver need to go pronto.  Too bad Fox has no other decent broadcasters that could step in to call the World Series.  ESPN also needs to recognize baseball outside New York and Boston and games can’t last 9 hours.  Good thing Bud Selig isn’t asleep at the switch.  Oh, wait…

*Where Art Thou NASCAR?  

Perhaps no sport other than baseball is suffering more than the stock car circuit.  Numbers are down dramatically from the sport’s peak in the early parts of the decade.  Every single Chase race and the Daytona 500 ratings were down from last year and have been going down for several years – NASCAR has lost almost a quarter of its viewership in the last 4 years.  As one of those fans that has largely left the sport, there are a few reasons why I stopped watching.  1) Jimmie Johnson’s dominance is a bore.  It’d be one thing if he was an electric personality, but instead he makes Tim Duncan look like Dennis Rodman.  2) Constant rule changes and tinkering make it nearly impossible to keep up with what’s going on in the sport, especially with the Chase.  3) The alien looking Car of Tomorrow and the cookie cutter cars and drivers that are impossible to pick apart.  How do I tell a Denny Hamlin from a Carl Edwards or a Clint Bowyer?  Perhaps the sport grow too much too fast, but NASCAR has to find a way to reverse the trend or else it may not even be considered a regional sport anymore with many races shipped out of the Southeast.

*Other Thoughts

-Good to see the Masters and the Kentucky Derby make the list to add a little tradition and diversity.  Although Tiger Woods was never really in contention on Sunday at Augusta, his big return saga and Phil Mickelson atop the leaderboard led to the third highest rated Masters ever.  If Tiger’s in contention this year, ratings will go through the roof.
-Surprising to see such a small college sports imprint.  Only 5 games on the list: the Rose, Sugar, and National Title Game along with Duke’s final four win over West Virginia and national championship against Butler.  With more of these big college games going to cable, there could be even less eyes watching.  The BCS games were down in the ratings department on ESPN in its first year and the Final Four will begin to alternate between CBS and TBS in 2016.  
-With several new TV contracts in the making, how many more big time sporting events will venture into cable?  Will ESPN continue its monopoly or will there finally be competition in the colossal cable world?
-The NBA is one sports league definitely trending up.  Celtics/Lakers was a ratings winner with Games 3-7 of the Finals all making the Top 100.  Game 7 saw the highest rated Finals game since that Jordan fella was shoving off Bryon Russell.  With the rise of the star-studded Heat and great stories all around the league, we could be in a golden age for the Association.  Ratings were up 45% on Christmas Day and there’s reason to believe those numbers should stay high in the 2011 playoffs. 

Matt Yoder

About Matt Yoder

Managing Editor of Awful Announcing and award winning sportswriter. Bloguin consigliere. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

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