ESPN's ratings have been a significant topic of discussion this summer. With NBC Sports Network strengthening their position and Fox Sports 1 looking to challenge Bristol directly, not to mention several league networks drawing fans, ESPN is facing more competition than ever before. Although the network was coming off of rating highs in the early parts of 2011 and 2012, 2013 brought multi-year lows in the ratings department. In the second quarter of 2013 ESPN was down 32% in primetime and 20% in total day average viewership compared to the year before. On the other hand, NBCSN, Golf Channel, MLB Network, NFL Network, and Fox Soccer all saw increases in year-to-year viewership.
In a sign they wanted to control the message about declining ratings, ESPN quickly responded to say the ratings news was a "rare aberration." The network explained declining ratings were thanks to the absence of Euro 2012 and more importantly, the lack of a classic Eastern Conference Finals series. In 2012, Heat-Celtics set cable records over the course of 7 games.
What's the truth about ESPN's ratings? Is it indeed a rare aberration or a sign that ESPN may be vulnerable to competitors? AA has learned more detailed information about ESPN's ratings that may provide some answers.
* Through the first 2 quarters of 2013, ESPN is averaging 824,000 viewers for its Total Day 6A-6A. This is the lowest since the first half of 2008 and down 14% from last year.
* SportsCenter ratings are down across the board.
- The early evening edition of SportsCenter at 6 PM ET averaged 665,000 viewers through 6/30, an 8% decline from last year.
- Perhaps most surprisingly, the primetime 11 PM ET SportsCenter averaged 870,000 viewers through 6/30, down 21% from last year.
- Additionally, according to the anonymous TVSportsRatings, daytime live editions of SportsCenter are down 12% from last year. Richard Deitsch reported the average viewership was 405,000 viewers through May 12 and the ESPN2 afternoon lineup of SportsNation and Highly Questionable were down 22% and 15% versus last year.
* Compared to last year, live event viewership is down. The biggest factor is indeed the NBA Conference Finals. In 2013, ESPN aired a sleep-inducing 4 game sweep by the Spurs over the Grizzlies. In 2012, ESPN had rights to the classic Heat-Celtics series. Spurs-Grizzlies averaged 4.9 million viewers over 4 games. Heat-Celtics averaged 10.1 million viewers over 7 games. That's a massive difference in total viewers considering ESPN had 3 extra games last year at over double the viewership.
* ESPN's 2013 Wimbledon coverage was down 15% from last year (981,000 - 835,000) thanks in large part to many upsets in the first few rounds of the tournament. It's also worth noting that 2012's ratings were particularly strong, even besting numbers NBC did on broadcast TV.
* The BCS on ESPN was slightly down from an average of 16.7 million to 15.1 million.
What does it all mean? It's no secret SportsCenter has received plenty of criticism here and elsewhere for a decline in quality and relevance. This is especially true for the live daytime editions, but has begun to affect the brand as a whole. However, the primetime 11 PM flagship edition still often maintains a high quality and has a long list of popular anchors like Scott Van Pelt, John Buccigross, Robert Flores, Steve Levy, and others. To see that it has the largest decline versus daytime and 6 PM is a shock.
The reasoning is likely a balance between criticism the show has faced, increased competition, and declining lead-in ratings. Those highly rated NBA playoff games certainly have a big impact on the 11 PM edition because live sports lead-ins boost ratings - after all, the highest rated episode of SportsCenter came after the infamous Fail Mary on Monday Night Football. Live events may explain part of the 11 PM decline, but don't fully explain declines at 6 PM and throughout the daytime. Those dips are indicative of a more systematic decline in the SportsCenter brand that may concern ESPN, especially with Fox Sports Live in its rearview mirror.
Another major takeaway from these numbers and ESPN's ratings being down is the importance of live events above all. ESPN aired 20 more regular season games and 10 more college football bowl games in the Nielsen year to year splits from 2012 to 2013 and those live events will always draw significantly higher ratings than studio shows. That's also why there's been such a great fluctuation from year to year with ESPN seeing highs in 2011 and 2012 and multi-year lows in 2013. It's also why NBC is willing to ship out $4.4 billion to NASCAR for their rights at a 40% increase in fees in spite of ratings being down for that sport.
A month ago we asked how worried ESPN should be about declining ratings. The answer appears to be a cautious yes. Time will tell just how the chips of live sports, studio programming, and especially SportsCenter fall with the increased competition of Fox Sports 1 and others a year from now.
Part has to be turning over the message boards to Facebook. I used to love to read the comments, a lot more good that bad. Facebook posts suck since the average account belongs to a teen-aged girl drama queen. No thanks.
I am grateful for more choices as now sports teams outside of the eastern seaboard may get some coverage. Really tired of all Jets and Pats all the time.
I think it's a combo of things, the fact that there are more options now, if you want to follow a sport year around, NFL, MLB, etc,. you can tune in to that network.
PTI and ATH are staples and have stayed true to who they are, this was before the Embrace Debate shows like First Take which stinks, LeBatard's show is good but you never know when it's on, and don't get me started on Numbers Never Lie.
Like I've said in other threads, the morning and afternoon Sportscenters are just filler now, better off just showing replays of games.
The early evening Sportscenters are still good, I mean I think once football starts they'll be an uptick.
Love the 10pm CT, Sportscenter, anchors like SVP, Steve Levy, Linda Cohn, Jay Harris, hey put Olberman there, among others, you still get highlights and a little debate.
Hate to say it, but the Grizzlies/Spurs Western Conference finals didn't help either.
We'll see once football starts, how the ratings are as well as Fox Sports 1's are.
Why haven't they debated this topic on First Take yet. It would be great.
According to Nielsen the ratings are down.
"No they're not"
"Yes they are"
It would be riveting.
Frankly, I'm glad to see that the numbers are down for ESPN. It's about time people are fed up with the same old garbage day after day after day. I haven't watched Sportscenter in years, and have NO interest in their yammering. As someone else alluded to, it'll be interesting when the new Fox Sports 1 launches and see how well they can sustain a probable initial following. I'll be there waiting.
It's funny how ESPN's ratings have almost identically followed the rise, fall and rise again of LeBron. They pushed all their chips in on that angle and it both succeeded (short term) and failed (possible long term)
2011 - First season of the Big 3, sky high ratings for that abortion known as First Take, all the way through the Heat loss to Dallas
2012 - More "LeChoke" drama right up until the end of ESPN's control of the Heat with the Game 6 legendary game, and the "redemption" summer of LeBron and Team USA's run to gold.
2013 - Majority of people smartened up tool First Take and their weak trolling, the god awful ESPN NBA crew and the general apathy of the regular season, no LeBron other than him running through a Bulls wasteland.
For two straight years they built LeBron as the super villain and now tried to turn him into the sympathetic figure after he started winning. All they have left now is petty speculation of his return to Cleveland (which is just a laughable scenario) for the next 11 months or so.
"popular anchors like Scott Van Pelt, John Buccigross, Robert Flores, Steve Levy, and others." YOU ARE JOKING ME. THERE IS NOBODY ON IT!
ESPN LOVES TO TALK ABOUT THE POPULAR PLAYERS AND TEAMS. THE REST ARE A NONSTORY NO MATTER WHAT.
I FINALLY GOT NFL NETWORK. I GET MY FEED OF NEWS FROM THERE. ESPN IS DEAD TO ME.
I've found myself putting on the NFL Network just to get away from the repeat of topics on ESPN. They spend the whole day talking about the same 3 things across the board and it gets tiring. Also, The ratings for Highly Questionable are going down because they keep moving its times around and moving it from different channels. I love that show but I never know when I'm gonna watch it cause they are constantly pulling it for weeks at a time.
At work we've been putting on NBCSN for the past few months because they show sports more often than ESPN and its 24/7 Sportscenter "embrace debate" BS. Another channel that has getting a lot of views is BeIN Sport. If ESPN would put more live sports on people might tune in but with their increase of the Skip Baylessness of the network I have tuned out
At some point, people have to understand that there are options outside of ESPN. So far, only the very committed use those other options, but the casual fan is still mostly stuck on the Mothership. Live events are one thing but I want to see how Fox Sports Live performs as that could end up being the game changer some of us are asking for.
ESPN's ratings will jump back up as soon as NFL season starts...but they better be seriously concerned when FS1 launches
the whole "embrace debate" thing has to go. Havent watched any sportscenter since the debating started and sure as hell wont watch first take or any of the likes.
Only quality programming on ESPN right now is Numbers Never Lie, Around the Horn, and PTI. the rest is realy awful compared to the past
@DFreshHookup Nice analysis, insightful.
@LeilaniHernandez sportscenter definitely needs more SVP, John anderson, Levy, Linda Cohn, Hell put Olberman back on SS. I know the other anchors would hate it, but he would bring back some of the old school sportscenter vibe that the show needs
@the_clay_bird lol, you hate the 'embrace debate' concept yet you like Around The Horn and PTI? It's the same thing except with different people.
@the_clay_bird You do realize that Around the Horn and PTI are all about embracing debate? First take blows.
@the_clay_bird @LeilaniHernandez Olby is horrible. In every single way, with every pretentious, whiny, condescending breath he takes, the world is a little worse for it. He doesn't have anything to offer to help ESPN. His opinions are bad, his delivery is bad, and his working environment is awful. Between him and Schilling I am done with ESPN. I went from watching and DVRing BBTN every night to not even bothering Schilling makes that show and anytime he does the games they air he renders it completely unwatchable. I have alerted ESPN to some forms and conversations on their own site where Schilling is completely torn apart and made fun of nonstop probably 50 bad comments for every 1 positive, they said they'd look into it. They are complacent and do not care.
@thamoore @the_clay_bird Yeah and they've been on the air since LONG before the whole "embrace debate" shit show. Those 2 shows back to back is plenty of debate for everyone no need for 2 hours of skip baseless and SAS making absolutely idiotic and bizarre claims. just put highlights back on sportscenter and the ratings will take care of themselves
@Troodypie I guess you dont know many people !