ESPN in 2017: Live Events Drive Audience Increases


ESPN in 2017: Live Events Drive Audience Increases

  • ESPN’s 2017 Prime-Time and Total-Day Audiences Rise vs. 2016
  • ESPN Leads Cable Nets in Q4 Prime-Time Viewership for 18th Time in 19 Years
  • ESPN Has Led Cable for Key Male Demos for 18 Straight Quarters

ESPN’s 2017 viewership in prime time and in total day rose vs. 2016, while the network returned to its familiar spot atop cable networks in fourth quarter prime-time viewership and continued its streak of leading full-time cable networks in the key male demos to 18 consecutive quarters (4.5 years).

  • In 2017, ESPN averaged 2,058,000 viewers (P2+) in prime time across TV and streaming, an increase of 7% over 2016. ESPN grew its audience among men and adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.
  • ESPN also saw its total day viewership rise 1%.
  • In the fourth quarter, ESPN grew its audience 13% in prime to 3,052,000 viewers across TV and streaming, the best on cable, as it had accomplished from 1999 – 2015 before the aberration of last year’s political climate pushed ESPN to second place (behind Fox News). Audiences also rose by a double-digit percentage among men and adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.  ESPN’s total day viewership rose 9%.
  • In addition, the recently completed quarter was the 18th straight in which ESPN led full-time cable networks in delivering the key male demographic groups advertisers covert: men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

Live Events Break Through the Clutter

Throughout 2017, ESPN’s industry-leading portfolio of rights to marquee live sporting events garnered noteworthy viewership superlatives and growth:

  • 2017 New Year’s Six Bowl Games: averaged nearly 15 million viewers, and will be the most-watched New Year’s Six once streaming audience is fully reported.  The semis were up 9% from last year and up 24% from the 2015 season.  All non-CFP Semifinal New Year’s Six Games set new viewership records.  In addition, the College Football Playoff Semifinals (officially in 2018’s ratings) averaged  24,590,000 viewers, up 27% from last year and 44% from the 2015 season.
  • NBA Finalson ABC:  most-watched NBA Finals since 1998 (playoffs before Finals up 5%)
  • Pacquiao vs. Horn: most-watched boxing telecast on cable television since 2006
  • College Football on ABC: Saturday Night Football was the most-watched college football franchise among all networks in any time slot for the second consecutive year.
  • College Football on ESPN/ESPN2: ESPN/ ESPN2 – 47 of cable’s biggest 50 audiences for the sport.
  • Monday Night Football (17 games in 16 weeks): ESPN won the night among all networks in all key male and adult demos all 16 weeks.
  • Men’s College World Series (16 games): up 56%
  • MLB Home Run Derby: up 55%
  • MLS Playoffs (seven games): up 38% from 2016; championship game up 20% from 2015 (last time on ESPN)
  • NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship: up 29%
  • US Open Women’s Final: up 26% and the best in ESPN’s three years
  • Women’s College World Series (15 games): up 21%
  • NBA Summer League (39 games): up 18%
  • NBA (season to date, 20 games): up 16% and up 23% among Adults 18-49
  • 2016 College Football’s “New Year’s Six” and the 2017 Championship Game: up 15%
  • WNBA Finals (five games): up 15%
  • NBA Draft: up 14%
  • Little League World Series (32 games): up 12%
  • Sunday Night Baseball:  up 8%
  • US Open:  up 8%
  • NCAA Men’s Basketball:  Saturday nights up 8%; Tuesday & Thursday nights both up 6%
  • Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Final:  up 6%




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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