American Pharoah bucked almost four decades of history by finally breaking the Triple Crown drought at the Belmont Stakes over the weekend. With an event so many years in the making, NBC rightfully expected a massive rating. And the Belmont Stakes delivered… just not to the extent that the network may have hoped for.
Somewhat surprisingly, American Pharoah’s bid at history was down in the overnight ratings from California Chrome’s Triple Crown attempt last year. Ratings fell 5% from a 12.9 rating to a 12.3. It’s hard to say that American Pharoah’s race for the Triple Crown had more or less hype versus previous attempts, but there was certainly every chance of history being made at the Belmont.
On the plus side though, NBC says it’s the third highest Belmont rating since 1988. The network also claims it’s the highest rated sporting event on a Saturday afternoon since the Ravens-Patriots playoff game back in January.
Now the question for horse racing and NBC’s coverage of the Triple Crown is where we go from here. The quest of the Triple Crown has been the dominant storyline for a generation in the sport. It’s been the draw for casual sports fans that flock to the Belmont in hopes of seeing history. And while we’ll never forget actually seeing it happen (myself and a good chunk of the American public had never seen one in our lifetime before Saturday), there’s only one first time for a lot of us.
It seems to be just human nature that there won’t be as much interest in seeing another Triple Crown winner if it’s the first since 2015 versus being the first since 1978. Who knows, maybe we get a run of Triple Crown winners that leads to a renaissance for the sport of kings. The question will be whether NBC and horse racing build on the momentum of breaking the Triple Crown drought and create more dedicated fans for the sport or will fans be content that they finally saw history being made?