Sports Networks Get Creative to Bring Back Viewers


Jeffrey Silverman, PhD
Director, Data Science & Analytics
Apr 23, 2020

With most major sports programming put on pause while the world adjusts to social distancing and stay at home orders, Samba TV analyzed the state of sports programming and broadcast viewership.  

In the past 90 days, the networks with the largest audience losses were nine of the top cable sports networks, each of which lost more than 25% of their audience since January. The sum of these audience losses is more than 20 million households. The massive sports viewership decimation is the largest factor pulling down cable’s overall audience overall. This could also forecast future risks to cable’s hold on audiences once the current crisis subsides and fans discover new ways to access their favorite sports programs. 

Without live televised games, sports networks suffered viewership losses of as much as 50%. In the face of these dramatic losses, some networks are digging deep to develop innovative approaches to delivering some semblance of fresh sports content for their starved audiences.  

On Sunday, April 12, ESPN aired a live HORSE competition between former and current NBA and WNBA stars. Nearly 1 million households watched the first round of the competition. That drove up total viewership by more than 600% from the same time slot one week prior.

Meanwhile, the first two episodes of ESPN's Michael Jordan documentary, "The Last Dance" premiered on April 19th. Episode 1 had 3.5M US households tune in, and episode 2 had 3.0M US households. This is more than a 10x increase in viewership for the same ESPN timeslot the night before, and more than a 3x increase in viewership for the same ESPN timeslot the week before (on April 12, when the aforementioned HORSE competition aired). Chicago, as you might expect, was the most over-indexing DMA in the country as viewers tuned in at a rate almost 3x that of the US overall. Interestingly, households with income more than $100k over-indexed by 22% as compared to the US overall. 

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wins on the frequent programming front, airing 7 major new episodes- including Friday Night SmackDown on FOX and Monday Night RAW on USA in the last month, averaging 1.0M US households each.

Sports entertainment networks and stay at home viewers alike are looking for creative content to substitute their beloved sports games, and for those willing to think a little creatively there is clearly a large audience in the wings.  

Interested in learning more? Contact Us

Thank you for voting Samba TV 'Best in Measurement Solutions'! Read more on Adweek

More resources

View More