ESPN’s Best First Quarter Viewership in Five Years, up 40% in Prime Time


ESPN’s Best First Quarter Viewership in Five Years, up 40% in Prime Time

Among Viewers 18-49, ESPN Tops all Cable Networks by Wide Margin 

Long List of Studio Shows with Surging Audiences, Every Live Edition of SportsCenter up 9-27% 


ESPN’s total day viewership in the first quarter of 2022 was up 32% vs. last year to an average of 812,000 viewers (P2+), the network’s best for the first three months of the year since 2017.  The increase was even more pronounced in prime time – up 40% to 2.068M viewers.  

In the target demo of adults 18-49, ESPN was up 23% in total day audience and led the second-place network by 74%.  In prime time, ESPN’s audience in the demo grew 36% and the advantage was more than double – up 111% – the next closest competitor.  

On the strength of the weekday studio show lineup, ESPN averaged 600,000 viewers from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. ET, up 20% over 2021 and the best since 2017.  

Event Programming 

  • ESPN’s 2022 got off to a hot start with strong performances from cable television’s annually most-watched three programs – the College Football Playoff Semifinals and Championship – and Monday Night Football including the inaugural Week 18 doubleheader and the first-ever NFL Wild Card Playoff Game on a Monday night.   
  • In its first year, the NHL on ESPN averaged an audience 21% larger than last season’s Wednesday night games in the quarter.  
  • The NBA on ESPN averaged 1.3M viewers, up 9% from a year ago.
  • Men’s College Basketball increased its audience 26% vs. the previous season.  Champ Week was up 33% on ESPN/ESPN2. 
  • The last home game for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski drew an average of 4M viewers and was the most-watched regular-season game on any network in three years. 
  • Women’s College Basketball soared 45% over last year’s average audience. After two rounds, the NCAA Tournament audience is 15% larger than 2021. 
  • The Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20 kicked off the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship season and was the most-watched (average of 1.353M) event of the series on cable since 1995 (Grand Prix of Brazil, 1.74M)…until it was topped a week later by the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (1.445M).  Both races aired on ESPN. 
  • The Australian Open men’s championship was up 56% from the previous year and the most-viewed since 2017. 

Studio Programming 

  • Every live edition of ESPN’s flagship program, SportsCenter, was up double digits vs. 2021 (except for the 1 a.m. show which was up 9%).  The biggest increases were the 11 p.m. show (up 27%) and the 6 p.m. show (up 20%).  The most-watched edition was the midnight program with an average of 550,000 viewers, up 12% from a year ago. 
  • Weekday afternoon’s NBA Today averaged 311,000 viewers, up 32% from the time slot the previous season.  It reached a new all-time high point on Thursday, Feb. 10, with an average of 544,000 viewers. 
  • NBA Countdown averaged 523,000 viewers, a 29% increase vs. 2021. 
  • The weekday morning show First Take was up 23% for its best first quarter since 2018.  It set a show record for most-viewed show ever on Monday, Jan. 17, with an average of 918,000 people. 
  • The weekday morning program Get Up enjoyed its best first quarter ever, up 15% from last year.  On Monday, Jan. 17, it garnered its biggest audience ever with an average of 658,000 viewers.
  • Weekday afternoon’s NFL Live recorded its best first quarter since 2016, up 31% from 2021.  
  • Around the Horn at 5 p.m. had its best first quarter since 2018, up 25% from a year ago. 
  • In its 21st year, Pardon the Interruption at 5:30 p.m. was up 12% and is ESPN’s most popular weekday studio show, averaging 728,000 in the quarter.  


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. 
Back to top button