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Has Horse Racing peaked with the 2014 Belmont Stakes?

California Chrome’s run for the Triple Crown led to a monster rating for NBC on Saturday.  The race was watched by 20.6 million viewers, the second most watched Belmont Stakes going back to 1988.  It’s also the most watched weekend sporting event this year since the Winter Olympics.

Just how big is an audience of 20.8 million viewers?  More people watched the Belmont Stakes than Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (4.7 million viewers) and the NBA Finals (14.9 million viewers) combined.  Combined!  That’s incredible.

Here’s NBC’s release on the massive Belmont rating…

California Chrome’s run for history, which concluded in a dead-heat tie for fourth place as Tonalist won the race, averaged 20.6 million viewers – the second-highest Belmont Stakes viewership on record, trailing only the 21.9 million viewers for NBC’s telecast of Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown attempt in 2004 (People Meter viewership dates to 1988). 

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  • The 2014 Belmont Stakes is the most-watched weekend sporting event since NBC’s primetime telecast of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on Sunday, February 16 (21.3 million).
  • The 2014 Belmont Stakes (6:23-7:15 p.m. ET) topped by 57% the average viewership for the last Belmont in which a Triple Crown was at stake (13.1 million on ABC in 2008 for Big Brown).    
  • NBC’s Belmont Stakes registered a 12.0/27 household rating – a 46% increase over the 8.2/20 for ABC’s Big Brown telecast in 2008, and ranking as the third-highest rated Belmont since Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977. NBC’s telecast of Smarty Jones’ bid in 2004 registered a 13.1/29, and CBS’ coverage of Pleasant Colony’s Triple Crown attempt in 1981 posted a 12.6/36.
  • NBC’s 4.0 rating among Adults 18-49 ranked as the highest in the demographic since the 2004 Belmont Stakes, and tied the 2003 Belmont as the second-highest in People Meter history.
  • NBC’s Belmont viewership and rating increased by 194% and 167% respectively over the 2013 race won by Palace Malice (7.0 million viewers and 4.5/11 HH rating).
  • Locally, Belmont Stakes ratings increased in 53 of 56 metered markets vs. the last Triple Crown attempt in 2008, and were up in all 56 metered markets vs. the ’13 telecast.  The New York market, the home of the Belmont Stakes, registered a 15.8 rating/37 share which ranks as the second-highest ever in the market behind only Smarty Jones’ attempt in 2004 (20.5/38).
  • Fans live streamed 6,798,019 million minutes of the Belmont Stakes on NBC Sports Live Extra — the NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, and tablets – a record for any horse race streamed by NBC Sports Digital. Coverage included an isolation camera on California Chrome, bonus analysis from NBC Sports commentators, and replays and footage from the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The Belmont Stakes was watched by 389,680 unique viewers.

But here’s the other side of that Belmont rating.  Of course the spike came about because of California Chrome’s run at the Triple Crown, which was the first such attempt since 2008 when Big Brown pulled up during the race.  So there was definitely an appetite to see California Chrome attempting history.  However, the fact that California Chrome didn’t come close to winning, and the epic rant from owner Steve Coburn afterwards, might ingrain into the minds of sports fans that a Triple Crown will never happen again.  Take this pro wrestlingesque promo as the manifesto for the reasons why:

If the people in horse racing don’t think there’s a realistic chance for another Triple Crown winner, what are fans supposed to believe?  As more and more horses come to the grueling Belmont fresh, it’s only going to become tougher and tougher for a horse to win the Triple Crown.  Will all those casual fans who came in for the race portion of the Belmont come back when the message being sent to them is that it’s impossible for a horse to win the Triple Crown in this day and age?

For the sake of horse racing, the sport will hope the answer is no.  But if everyone is this pessimistic about seeing history made any time soon, then you have to wonder whether or not we’ll look back at the 2014 Belmont Stakes as a turning point in the history of horse racing – the last, best chance at the Triple Crown.  And the last time the nation truly embraced the chase.

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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