ESPN's Nine for IX documentary series has been struggling in the ratings department, and quite frankly, I'm puzzled. Heading into the sixth film in the series this evening, spotlighting former East German figure skater Katarina Witt, the viewership totals for the five documentaries have ranged from 311,000 to 460,000. To put those numbers in perspective, just one of the 30 for 30 branded documentaries has drawn under half a million viewers since the original batch of 30 aired: Goose, which drew 349,000 viewers and spotlighted the career of former Negro League player and Harlem Globetrotter Reece "Goose" Tatum.
There are several reasons I can think of for the documentaries struggling. One is the fact that they're airing in the summer, a notorious dead time for sports. Since the original run aired, none of the 21 30 for 30 films have aired in July and August. Of course, all nine of the Nine for IX films are scheduled for July and August, leading into the next six 30 for 30 films in the fall.
The second major reason I can think of for the ratings struggles is the subject matter of the documentaries. Breaking the subject of each film down to its lowest level, the five documentaries that have aired thusfar have focused on women's college basketball, tennis, diving, and the media. None of those topics really grab the interest of the general public like say, college football, the NFL, or something based in crime or scandal.
And the third reason I can think of for the struggling ratings is one that one that has really plagued most of the 30 for 30 films: the lead-in. Featuring a documentary after the Heisman presentation or pairing it with the NFL Draft or NCAA selection show will do a lot more for ratings than say, a two-hour live SportsCenter (as is the case with Tuesday evening's High Stakes).
It's disheartening to see viewers not tuning in to watch the documentaries, The stories being told are very compelling, and deserve to be known by a larger audience. Hopefully, they'll earn a higher degree of viewership once they all air and earn another life on Netflix and/or DVD.