The viewership numbers are in for Fox’s prime time coverage of the first round of the U.S. Open Thursday, and they seem pretty strong. The prime time coverage (7:30 p.m. Eastern – 10:30 p.m. Eastern, across the regular feed on Fox and the alternate feed on FS1, drew an average of 3.465 million viewers. Fox says that’s a 61 percent rise over last year and also cites it as the “the best first round coverage on a broadcast network since 2002,” but that comes with some caveats. First, their graphic:
FOX Sports scores best U.S. Open first round ratings since 2002 ⛳️ pic.twitter.com/fVfEqfdjNB
— FOX Sports PR (@FOXSportsPR) June 14, 2019
Something that’s important to keep in mind with the U.S. Open is that it changes locations (and frequently, time zones) each year, so that creates quite a different picture when it comes to TV. This year’s event is at Pebble Beach in California (so, in the Pacific time zone), but last year’s was held at Shinnecock Hills in New York (in the Eastern time zone), and 2017’s was held at Erin Hills in Wisconsin (so, in the Central time zone). Because these golf events are played with natural light rather than artificial lighting, they’re not always at ideal times for TV, and it’s particularly difficult to have significant prime time (8-11 p.m.) coverage in the Eastern time zone unless the tournament is being played on the West Coast.
Prime time coverage is important, as that’s generally seen as the window when the most people are able to watch. And an event held in prime time by Eastern Time not only factors in the largest viewer group of any U.S. time zone, but also works better for Central, Mountain and Pacific than anything earlier does. It’s notable, as our Ken Fang wrote in 2015 (the last time the tournament was held on the West Coast), that NBC’s early-round window before Fox took over in 2015 was often 3-5 p.m. Eastern, a time when most people are still at work and a long way from prime time for anyone. Also, ESPN aired coverage of the early rounds as well under the previous deal, and they’re a cable network rather than a broadcast network, so this comparison doesn’t appear to include them. So while “best first round coverage on a broadcast network since 2002” appears to be correct, the timing here seems to have played a big role in that.
At any rate, though, these are good numbers for Fox, and against some significant competition (in particular, Game 6 of the NBA Finals tipped off at 9 p.m. Eastern, so that was going head-to-head with the last 90 minutes of Fox’s coverage). We’ll see if their numbers stay strong through the rest of the tournament.