On Sunday, ESPN aired the first half of the NBA’s HORSE challenge, a live sports (ish) event that we sort of needed after missing out on live basketball for a full month.
And it turns out that, despite lusting after live sports, the US at large wasn’t too enamored with live HORSE. According to ShowBuzz Daily, the HORSE competition drew just 686,000 viewers for ESPN. While it was the top spots program of the day, it finished behind plenty of news and reality programs in total viewers, and also finished sixth in the 18-49 demo, behind a quintet of reality TV shows (three of which were on TLC).
However disappointing those numbers are, it’s important to note that the only cable sports broadcast to top HORSE for the week was All Elite Wrestling on TNT Wednesday night, and that only outdrew HORSE by 6,000 viewers. For all of the clamoring about classic games and the press releases touting those games, they’re just not drawing great viewership. The only three sports broadcasts to top one million viewers were WWE SmackDown and a pair of classic Masters broadcasts on CBS (2019 on Sunday, 2004 on Saturday). A week and a half ago, sports Twitter was losing their minds over the 2006 Texas-USC Rose Bowl, one of the greatest college football games ever, and that didn’t even crack 400,000 viewers on ESPN.
The main takeaway here is that people are craving live sports content…but they’re not going to just settle for whatever is thrown at them. Classic programming, while fun, isn’t going to draw the same audience that live, original programming will. This points to the importance of next week’s NFL Draft – it’s always a huge part of the NFL schedule, and fans are looking, more than ever, for something to latch onto. The Draft could end up being more of a smash hit than it ever has before, even if the actual broadcast itself is usually a complete slog.