ESPN Soars and Scores in May, Audience up 17% Overall and 31% in Prime Time


ESPN Soars and Scores in May, Audience up 17% Overall and 31% in Prime Time

  • All Key Adult and Male Demos Rise Substantially
  • NBA Playoffs a Slam Dunk Success
  • Late SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt up 62% including Most-Watched Edition Ever

In May, ESPN’s prime-time audience was up an eye-opening 31%, in large part because of the NBA Playoffs.  The network averaged 2,043,000 viewers (P2+), compared to 1,561,000 a year ago, according to Nielsen.  All six key adult and male demos groups rose even more (from 36% to 39%, see chart below).  The prime-time viewership and each of the six key demos where at ESPN’s highest level in May since 2015.

Overall, the network’s audience rose 17%, from 618,000 to 720,000, with those six demo groups up from 12% to a high of 18%.

The increasing popularity of the compelling NBA Playoffs was the big force for ESPN in May.  In the month, ESPN aired 10 games (including six of the seven Eastern Conference Final between Cleveland and Boston with one on ABC) and averaged 6,737,000 viewers, up +39% from May 2017 (4,851,000 viewers, nine games).  Overall, ESPN’s 19 NBA playoff games averaged 5,101,000 viewers, up 30% from 2017. It was the second-most watched NBA Playoffs ever on ESPN (back to 2003).  The 2018 NBA Finals on ABC will tip off Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET. The Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James will visit the Golden State Warriors, the fourth consecutive year these two teams have met for the NBA championship.

ESPN’s performance in May:


Prime Time      P2+         P1834         P1849         P2554         M1834        M1849        M2554

2017 (000s)       1,560       338             697             702             242             487             483

2018                 2,043       467             951             962             330             670             670

% Change        +31%       +38%          +36%          +37%          +36%          +38%          +39%


Total Day         P2+         P1834         P1849         P2554         M1834        M1849        M2554

2017 (000s)       618          158             315             309             120             234             226

2018                 720          179             364             364             134             269             266

% Change        +17%       +13%          +16%          +18%          +12%          +15%          +18%


(Source:  Nielsen, 4/30/18 – 5/27/18 vs. 5/1/17 – 5/18/17, M-Su 6a-6a or Cable Prime–Strict Daypart, Includes DTVR, Live+Same Day.)


Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter with Huge Increases, Hits All-Time High

  • The late-night SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt was up 62% overall in May with all six key adult and male demos up more than 50%. The May 27 edition was the most-watched since Van Pelt assumed the anchor position in September 2015 (more than 4.2 million viewers).



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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