ESPN flag Bristol, CT – March 9, 2017: ESPN flag (Photo by Melissa Rawlins / ESPN Images)

About that narrative that ESPN is dying…maybe it was a bit premature. In a proud press release, the cable sports behemoth noted that its live events, including this season’s New Year’s Six bowl games, Monday Night Football, college football, the College World Series, and MLB Home Run Derby helped to pace ESPN to increased viewership in 2017.

ESPN notes that it averaged 2.058 million viewers on TV and online primetime in 2017, up seven percent from the year before. Key demographics of men and adults in the 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54 age groups also rose.

In the 4th quarter of 2017, ESPN saw an average audience of 3.052 million viewers in primetime on both TV and online, an increase of 13%. It led the Worldwide Leader back into first place among cable networks. Thanks to a busy presidential election season in 2016, Fox News took first place in the 4th quarter in that year, unseating ESPN.

Events like the College World Series, the MLB Home Run Derby (up 55% from last year), the MLS Playoffs (up 38%), the New Year’s Six bowl games (up 9%), NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship (up 29%), and the first 20 games of the 2017-18 NBA season (16% higher than 2017) all have given ESPN higher numbers in the just-completed calendar year, though its overall college football coverage and Monday Night Football were both down this year.

The release also doesn’t focus on any of ESPN’s studio programming, like SportsCenter, First Take, Around the Horn, PTI, and the like. It’s also worth noting that in September, ESPN made the decision to report linear TV and streaming viewership together rather than separately, resulting in naturally higher numbers than if just linear TV was reported, as has been done in previous years.

But overall, ESPN couldn’t be thrilled to see the higher viewership in 2017, despite all of its missteps off the air, and it feels that it has some momentum going into 2018.


About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.