ESPN Scores Big in May, Biggest Total-Day Audience for the Month in Seven Years

Ratings

ESPN Scores Big in May, Biggest Total-Day Audience for the Month in Seven Years

NBA, NHL Playoffs, NCAA Softball, PGA Championship & Formula One Lead Event Coverage Increases 

Get Up, First Take Enjoy Strongest May Ever; Strong Month for SportsCenter & Daytime Studio Shows 

ESPN’s Total Day Audience up 34%, up 76% in Prime; Leads Cable among P18-49 

ESPN scored its strongest viewership in May in seven years, thanks to big increases in the audiences for the NBA, NCAA Softball, the PGA Championship and Formula One; SportsCenter throughout the day; and the entire lineup of weekday studio shows, plus the return of the NHL to ESPN with an extensive playoff schedule.  

Overall, ESPN averaged 742K viewers (P2+) on a 24-hour basis, up 34% from May 2021.  It was ESPN’s highest average for May since 2015.  The increase in prime time was even more pronounced – an average of 2.17M viewers, a stunning increase of 76% vs. last year to the network’s highest mark since 2018.  

In May (April 24 – May 28), ESPN led all cable networks in total day viewership among persons 18-49.  

Live Event Highlights 

The NBA on ESPN attracted an average audience in May of 5.55M viewers (13 games, all playoffs), more than three times (up 204%) bigger than a year ago (25 games, 18 regular-season and seven playoffs).  The month concluded with the most-watched game in this year’s playoffs on any network – Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston defeating Miami, with an average audience of 9.87M fans.  It was ESPN’s best NBA audience since 2018 and was the most-viewed telecast on cable since the NCAA Tournament.  

ESPN’s first NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2005 provided a big boost to the month.  The 27 post-season contests (16 first round, 11 second round) averaged 1.2M viewers, up 81% vs the 25 games in May a year ago on NBCSN (23 first round, two second round).  

The NCAA Softball slate of nine contests (two regular season, seven post season) was the strongest for the month on ESPN since 2015.  The average of 636K viewers was up 18% over 2021 (10 games; two regular season, eight post season).  Of note, the Texas vs. Arkansas matchup on May 28 broke the record for viewership in the Regionals/Super Regionals round for any ESPN network, an average of just over one million people.  

ESPN’s coverage of the first two rounds of the PGA Championship garnered tremendous viewership for each six-hour window.  Thursday’s audience of 1.5M fans was 23% larger than a year ago and the biggest on any network for that round in 20 years – since 2002.  Friday’s second round averaged 2.1M viewers, a record for ESPN – which added the golf Major in 2020 after a 30-year absence – and the best on any network since 2009.  In addition, the new alternate telecast featuring Joe Buck and Michael Collins averaged 684K and 691K the two days for its first hour on ESPN.  That represents increases of 80% and 88%, respectively, when compared to the same hour preceding the primary telecast on ESPN before the 2021 event.  

Formula One continued its spectacular growth across ESPN’s networks in May.  The inaugural Grand Prix of Miami on ABC attracted the biggest audience in U.S. television history for a live F1 race – 2.6M viewers.  The Grand Prix of Spain on ESPN2 was up 32% from last year on ESPN to an event-record on cable (and a record for live coverage) average of 1.1M viewers.  For seven races this year to date (five on ESPN), the series is averaging 1.4M persons.  That is an increase of 45% from the same point a year ago, the most-watched campaign in F1 history on U.S. television.  The sport’s rising popularity is not limited to the races.  ESPN attracted an audience of 953K viewers for qualifying at the Grand Prix of Miami on May 7, ESPN’s largest viewership for a regular qualifying telecast since F1 returned to the network in 2018.  

SportsCenter and Weekday Studio Shows 

Every edition of SportsCenter increased its audience over 2021 (except the 1 a.m. show), led by the midnight show growing 83%.  Also, numerous editions posted their best May in years and/or their best month since January.   

  • The 11 p.m. edition averaged 654K people, its highest since 2017 and up 44% from 2021.   
  • The 7 a.m., noon, 6 p.m., midnight and weekend morning shows all posted their best May since 2019.   
  • The audience of 3.6M for the May 29 edition of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt that followed Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals was the biggest for any SportsCenter with Van Pelt in nearly 18 months – since January 1, 2021 (4.5M following the College Football Playoff Semifinals). It also was the biggest audience for any SportsCenter since Jan. 10, 2022 (3.8M following the College Football Playoff National Championship.) 
  • The 7 a.m., 11 p.m., midnight and 1 a.m. editions all enjoyed their strongest month since January. 

In addition, ESPN’s entire weekday lineup of studio shows eclipsed their performance of May a year ago by healthy margins: 

  • ESPN’s weekday morning duo – Get Up and First Take – each recorded their best month of May ever and were up 9% and 31%, respectively. 
  • In midday afternoons, This Just In was up 27%, NBA Today was up 59% and NFL Live was up 11%.  For the latter, it was the best May since 2016. (Comparisons to 2021 for TJI and NBA Today are to the equivalent time slot.) 
  • The longtime pairing of Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption from 5-6 p.m. had their best May since 2019 with increases of 17% and 11%, respectively. 

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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 America’s Cup 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, ratings, and corporate communications documents, including more than 30 of the Year in Review press releases.
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