ESPN Continues to Post Strong Ratings for Key Events in Prime Time


ESPN Continues to Post Strong Ratings for Key Events in Prime Time

Network’s Prime-Time Audience up 12 Percent in June

Horn’s Shocking Upset of Pacquaio:  Highest-Rated Boxing Telecast on Cable since 2006

First Take Posts Best June Ever

In the last month, ESPN posted strong ratings for many key, live events in prime time, as it has throughout 2017.  The latest, the much-debated “Battle of Brisbane” WBO World Welterweight Championship – in which hometown favorite Jeff Horn took a unanimous decision from Manny Pacquaio – was the highest-rated and most-viewed boxing telecast on cable television since 2006.  In addition, the NBA Playoffs and the NBA Finals on ABC, both the men’s and women’s College World Series and Sunday Night Baseball all scored very well with strong growth – often posting multi-year highs – in total live audience and in both its components – television ratings and streaming.  These marquee events helped lead ESPN to a 12 percent rise in prime-time television viewership in June (from 992,000 to 1,113,000 viewers, P2+, all stats are from Nielsen).

In addition, First Take – weekday mornings on ESPN from 10 a.m. – noon ET with host Molly Qerim plus Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman – posted its best June in history.  The show averaged 403,000 household impressions, up from 393,000 in June 2016, bolstered by its best June ever among Men 12-17, People 12-17, Men 35-54 and People 35-54.

The month’s big events scoring well:

Pacquiao vs. Horn

The July 1 telecast from Brisbane, Australia (10 p.m. – 1 a.m. ET), earned a 1.6 fast national rating according to Nielsen, the highest-rated boxing telecast on cable television since 2006 and ESPN’s highest-rated boxing event in 22 years – since 1995.  The actual fight – Horn’s much-debated victory (12 midnight – 1 a.m.) – earned a 2.2 rating.  In addition, all streaming statistics for ESPN and ESPN Deportes were records for boxing.

NBA Finals and Playoffs

The NBA Finals on ABC – the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 to win the NBA Championship – was the most-watched NBA Finals since 1998. The five-game series averaged a total live audience (TV and streaming) of 20,840,000 viewers, up from 20,578,000 viewers for last year’s seven-game series.

For the NBA Playoffs through the conference finals, the total live audience across ESPN and ABC was up five percent compared to 2016. The NBA Playoffs generated an average total live audience of 4,488,000 viewers, compared to 4,266,000 last year.

NBA Draft

The TV audience for the NBA Draft on ESPN was up 14 percent to more than 3.42 million viewers (P2+).  With a total live audience of 3.555 million, the Draft was ESPN’s second-most watched, and most-streamed, ever (back to 2003).  In addition, the NBA Draft was the most-watched cable telecast for June among M18-34, M18-49 and M25-54.

Men’s College World Series

The two-game Men’s College World Series Finals (June 26-27) – Florida Gators over the LSU Tigers 2-0 in a best-of-three series – averaged a total live audience of 1,945,000 viewers, the second-most watched sweep in Finals history and the most-watched Finals of any kind since 2014.  The viewership of nearly two million people is up 72% from 2016, which went to a decisive third game. The audience is also up 32% from the last Finals sweep, which occurred in 2013.

Overall, the 16 games of the College World Series averaged a total live audience of 1,120,000 viewers, the highest since 2014 and up 56% from last year’s tournament.  Also, all 16 games earned a higher total live audience than the corresponding game a year ago.

Women’s College World Series

The Oklahoma Sooners’ two-game sweep of the Florida Gators in the Women’s College World Series Finals (June 5-6 on ESPN) averaged a total live audience of 1,720,000 viewers, the most-watched sweep in Women’s College World Series Finals history.   The Sooner-Gators’ two games in the best-of-three format was up 33% from 2014, the last time the WCWS Finals failed to go to a decisive third game.  This year’s two-game average was also up 33% over last season’s WCWS Finals first two games (June 6-7, 2016) featuring Oklahoma and Auburn.

Overall, the Women’s College World Series – televised in its entirety by ESPN for the 17th straight year – averaged a total live audience of 984,000 viewers across the 14 games (June 1-6), up 21% from last year’s event (15 games, including a three-game WCWS Finals).

Sunday Night Baseball

Through June 18, the total live audience for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball is up 11% compared to the same period last year. Sunday Night Baseball is averaging a total live audience of 1,925,000 viewers, up from 1,737,000 viewers in 2016.

On television, Sunday Night Baseball is averaging a 1.2 U.S. household rating, up nine percent from a 1.1 household rating in 2016.


Dave Nagle

As I write this on 11-11-21, it's now 35 years for me at ESPN, the only real job I’ve ever had. I joined merely to help with the upcoming America’s Cup in Australia. I was told it would be for three months at all of $5.50 per hour. I like to say I simply kept showing up. I’ve worked on almost every sport, plus answered viewer calls and letters (people used to write!), given tours, written the company newsletter and once drove NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon to the local airport. My travels have been varied…I’ve been to Martinsville, Darlington, Indy and Super Bowls; the America’s Cup (all 3) in San Diego and College GameDay in the sport’s meccas such as Eugene, Auburn, Lubbock, Stillwater and more; the NBA Finals, Wimbledon (16 times and counting) and the “other Bristol,” the one with a race track in Tennessee. These days, my main areas are tennis, UFC, boxing, network-wide ratings (by month/quarter/year), and corporate communications documents, including fact sheets, chronologies, lists and nearly 35 of the Year in Review press releases. UPDATE EXACTLY ONE YEAR LATER: Today, November 11, 2022, I am retiring from ESPN -- 36 years to the day I began. As I ride off into the sunset – top down and E Street Radio blaring – I do so with so many wonderful memories, proud of my contributions and a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity. 
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