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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fun with sports ratings

So, what else can we learn from the sports ratings post from two weeks ago?
  • We can learn that the number of people who watch the Super Bowl just for the ads is lower than you might think. Subtract the 29.0 for the NFC Championship Game, reflecting actual football fans, from the 43.1 for the Super Bowl and you get 14.1. Doubtless the actual rating contributed by people watching for the ads is lower, as there must have been some football fans not watching the title game. Still, a 14.1 is on par with American Idol, and even if some of the football fans weren't football fans they might still watch for the commercials.
  • We can learn that outside the championship round, good matchups or teams matter more than being further advanced in the tournament - at least in basketball. The 8.7 for the Davidson-Kansas Elite Eight game nearly matches the highest-rated Final Four game (8.8) while the other Final Four game lags significantly behind (7.2). The highest rated non-Finals NBA game is a conference semifinal, admittedly on broadcast television. Last year, ALDS games involving the Yankees outrated a terribly-rated NLCS.
  • We can learn that the NCAA Tournament is the most powerful non-football, non-Olympics property in sports, more even than the NBA. The National Championship Game beat every game of the NBA Finals and World Series, even the rating for the shortened finish of the World Series alone. In a down year for the tournament and up year for the NBA, the aforementioned 8-range games beat three NBA Finals games, in a six-game series. Of course in the NCAAs, everything comes down to single games, but the 3.4 for North Carolina-Duke, the highest rated college basketball game, compares favorably not only to every non-Christmas Day game in 2008, but even to the "lesser" Christmas Day game. (Two non-Christmas games have garnered ratings of 3.8 so far this year.) You see why I claim that a playoff in college football would only be good for the sport.
  • We can learn that people do not always watch only games that matter in college football. Michigan-Florida in the Capitol One Bowl was more for bragging rights than anything else, but it outdrew every bowl except the BCS Title Game and the Rose Bowl.
  • For whatever reason, people watch the Kentucky Derby, comparatively ignore the Preakness, then when they find out the Derby winner won the Preakness they come back for the Belmont.
  • Golf is not baseball, the NBA, or NASCAR, and neither is the Triple Crown. Average rating for the NBA Finals: 9.3. Average rating for the World Series: 8.5, a rating depressed for a late night game. Rating for the Daytona 500: 10.2, .5 less than the highest NBA Finals rating and higher than the total rating for Game 5 of the World Series (admittedly a Series depressed by bad markets). The Belmont and Derby barely beat that depressed Series number by .4-.5, and the Masters by .1. Outside the Masters golf just doesn't matter comparatively.
  • Every All-Star Game is trying to rip off the baseball one. And for good reason. Only one World Series game beat the MLB All-Star Game, even though the ASG is a farce. (Baseball is not as well adapted to an all-star game as you might think from its individualistic nature, because of the way pitching works.)
  • The Pro Bowl sucks, but it is still an NFL game.
  • NASCAR loses a lot of momentum as the season progresses, and moving to cable is a big reason - and it ruins the Chase. The lowest-rated full race on Fox receives a 4.4; the highest-rated cable race is a 4.3 (the Brickyard 400, which comes temporally after the entire slate of TNT races), and only one ABC race outpaced any Fox race.
  • On the same level as the LCSes is the Indy 500, the Conference Finals, the other high cable events, and the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. Also up here are semi-high-profile college football games. The NFL has left this group in the dust; the lowest-rated game on any of the Big Four TV partners is a 5.9 for Monday Night Football between the Jags and Texans.
  • If the IRL doesn't belong in that middle tier because it never creeps beyond 1.0 outside Indy, then horse racing doesn't belong there either. It's just that its big events have a more dramatic difference. The Indy 500 may actually be underrated as an event because of the overall reputation of the IRL.
  • The Stanley Cup Finals ranks behind the Indy 500 (in the US). But at its best, it can do better than tennis, which I think is actually overrated as a sport by ESPN and the like. The highest-rated tennis rating I could find was the Wimbledon Nadal-Federer classic at 3.5; two Stanley Cup Finals games beat it.
  • Now that NBC has moved the US Figure Skating Championships (3.3) to primetime, are they underrated as a sports property? How much of the value of tennis (US Open Women's Final: 3.3) and the Stanley Cup Finals are created by primetime positioning on broadcast television? How should EliteXC feel about its relative inability to create even that much of a buzz on broadcast primetime (admittedly in relative late night)? I'd be interested in seeing what UFC did on broadcast primetime. Would it break the 3.0 barrier, and if so, would it do significantly better than EliteXC? (Ratings for UFC's big numbered events on Spike hovering around 2.0 or worse should be taken with a grain of salt because they are often tape-delayed.)
  • Don't read too much into the NFL Draft's ratings. It's on par with the broadcast networks' pregame shows. The only reason most people watch it is because they're just obsessed with all things NFL. Though keep in mind that the rating given might be an average rating; ratings for just the first round might be on par with the highest cable events.
  • Really, the only sports that matter are the NFL, Olympics, college football and men's basketball, MLB, NBA, NASCAR, golf, and then a huge gap to most everything else. I don't know how highly the World Cup ranks in general, but outside of the World Cup soccer still doesn't matter, and neither does MMA, despite being "sports on the rise". Here are all the events of other sports with ratings higher than 3.0: the three Triple Crown races, the Indy 500, two Stanley Cup Finals games, the Federer-Nadal Wimbledon classic, the figure skating championships, the US Open (tennis) women's final, and that's it. Only the Triple Crown races and Indy 500 are higher than 4.0. Even excluding the NFL and Olympics, there are 21 different events with ratings more than double that (8.0), including two of the Triple Crown races. EliteXC MMA (which doesn't exist anymore), women's college basketball, Euro 2008, and the Little League World Series (plus the Winter Classic) are the only new events to be introduced above 2.0. Both varieties of football outpace the other sports, and golf lags.

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