SBD/December 16, 2010/Media

ESPN "30 For 30" Ratings Boosted By College Football Docs

ESPN averaged a 0.8 U.S. rating and 1.194 million viewers for its "30 for 30" documentary series, with films focusing on college football scoring the best audience figures. The series concluded last Saturday with the premiere of "Pony Excess," which focused on the scandal surrounding the SMU football program in the '80s. That telecast, which followed the Heisman Trophy Presentation, earned a 1.6 U.S. rating and 2.5 million viewers, marking ESPN's most-viewed documentary of all time. The previous high was for the premiere of "The U," which aired following last year's Heisman telecast and examined the rise of the Univ. of Miami football program. Prior to the "30 for 30" series, ESPN's best audience for a documentary was "The Greatest Game Ever Played," which earned a 1.2 U.S. rating and 1.811 million viewers following the '08 Heisman telecast. Listed below are the ratings and viewership for each "30 for 30" documentary (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).

PREMIERE
DATE
FILM
NET
U.S. RATING
VIEWERS (000)
12/11/10
"Pony Excess"
ESPN
1.6
2,517
12/12/09
"The U"
ESPN
1.6
2,368
11/9/10
"The Best That Never Was"
ESPN
1.5
2,229
3/15/10
"Winning Time: Reggie Miller
vs. The New York Knicks"
ESPN
1.3
2,051
10/5/10
"Four Days in October"
ESPN
1.0
1,450
9/7/10
"One Night in Vegas"
ESPN
1.0
1,404
11/3/09
"Without Bias"
ESPN
0.9
1,232
8/24/10
"Jordan Rides the Bus"
ESPN
0.9
1,197
11/10/09
"The Legend of Jimmy the Greek"
ESPN
0.8
1,180
4/13/10
"No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson"
ESPN
0.8
1,113
11/2/10
"Marion Jones: Press Pause"
ESPN
0.8
1,107
6/22/10
"The Two Escobars"
ESPN
0.7
1,068
4/27/10
"Run Ricky Run"
ESPN
0.7
972
9/21/10
"The House of Steinbrenner"
ESPN
0.7
972
6/16/10
"June 17, 1994"
ESPN
0.7
963
10/12/10
"Once Brothers"
ESPN
0.7
895
9/28/10
"Into the Wind"
ESPN
0.6
894
10/20/09
"Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?"
ESPN
0.6
878
10/19/10
"Tim Richmond: To The Limit"
ESPN
0.6
808
5/11/10
"Straight Outta L.A."
ESPN
0.6
792
9/14/10
"Unmatched"
ESPN
0.6
780
8/31/10
"Little Big Men"
ESPN
0.5
739
10/26/10
"Fernando Nation"
ESPN
0.5
712
10/27/09
"Muhammad and Larry"
ESPN
0.6
708
10/13/09
"The Band That Wouldn’t Die"
ESPN
0.6
707
7/29/10
"The Birth of Big Air"
ESPN
0.5
692
10/6/09
"King's Ransom"
ESPN
0.5
645
5/4/10
"The 16th Man"
ESPN
0.4
463
5/4/10
"Guru of Go"*
ESPN
0.3
394
4/20/10
"Silly Little Game"
ESPN
0.3
356
NOTE: * = Rating, viewership listed for "Guru of Go" is for the ESPN premiere for the film on May 4, 2010. The hour-long film originally aired on ABC on April 3 as part of a two-hour "ESPN Sports Saturday" telecast which earned a 0.4 rating and 560,000 viewers.
 

SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN: SI's Richard Deitsch writes in the "same year that ESPN broadcast 'The Decision,' the self-aggrandizing shamathon featuring LeBron James, the network also produced some of its finest content since its inception in 1979." The net in '10 debuted 23 "30 for 30" documentaries, including "arguably the four best ... of the series" -- "The Two Escobars," "Once Brothers," "The Best That Never Was" and "June 17th, 1994." There were some "misses," but "collectively the series helped legitimize ESPN within the film industry." "The Two Escobars" even was "screened as an official selection at the film festivals of Cannes, Los Angeles and Tribeca, and at Amsterdam's documentary festival, the biggest in the world." ESPN Films plans to "debut documentaries next year on the University of Michigan basketball's famed Fab Five and on Olympic speedskating champion and celebrated humanitarian Johann Olav Koss" (SI, 12/20 issue).

IT'S A CELEBRATION: ESPN's Bill Simmons, who pitched the "30 for 30" idea to ESPN execs in a one-paragraph e-mail in '07 and served as an Exec Producer for the series, chatted with Assistant Managing Editor Austin Karp to give his thoughts on the "30 for 30" series and the future for ESPN and sports documentaries.

Q: Did the series as a whole deliver?

Simmons: Yeah, I thought it exceeded our expectations. The first step was convincing Hollywood that we were serious about making quality docs and letting them do their thing. That happened. The second step was getting everyone at ESPN to appreciate how important the series was to us creatively. ... That took a while but we eventually got there. (Example: The night before our first "30 for 30" was Brett Favre's return to Green Bay on "Monday Night Football." We didn't run one "30 for 30" commercial during the game. But once the critical praise started building, internally, I think people began to realize how important the series was.) And the final step was getting the audience to trust the series and look forward to it. ... I don't think we totally got there until near the end, with the Marcus Dupree doc, which was two hours and yet delivered a big rating. I don't know if people would have committed to that doc in 2009. So I couldn't be happier. We established a brand and delivered some quality movies. Win-win.

Q: What were your favorite films from the series?

Simmons: My favorites were probably "The Two Escobars" (for originality), "June 17, 1994" (for degree of difficulty), "The Best That Never Was" on Marcus Dupree (because it epitomized the series -- a great story about a forgotten athlete), "Muhammad & Larry" (beautifully done) and "Once Brothers" about the relationship between Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic (just a cool story and I learned something).

Q: What stories would you want to see ESPN tackle as documentaries going forward?

Simmons: I want to see us continue to push the envelope and take chances. I want us to continue to tell great stories instead of predictable ones. I want to see us work with first-class filmmakers. And I want us to continue to keep looking for up-and-coming talent like the Zimbalist brothers and give those people their first big break. If we do these four things, I'm happy.

Return to top

Related Topics:

ESPN

Video Powered By - Castfire CMS Powered By - Sitecore

Report a Bug