NBC all in with Triple Crown in play
With the potential for the first horse racing Triple Crown in more than three decades, NBC is devoting resources including cross-promotion on other NBC Universal-owned platforms, a record amount of television coverage, and a quickly produced documentary on race horse California Chrome to ensure a big television rating for the Belmont Stakes.
NBC Sports has done similar promotions for other big sports events, such as the Super Bowl, NFL Kickoff, the NHL playoffs, golf’s U.S. Open and, in horse racing, the Kentucky Derby.
“I won’t make any ratings predictions, other than it will be high,” Miller said.
NBC Sports announced last week that it would devote 16 hours to race coverage, including 2 1/2 hours on NBC starting at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday for the race itself. The other 13 1/2 hours of coverage will air on NBC Sports Network and will include a half-hour documentary that NBC Sports produced titled “California Chrome, the Unlikely Champion,” hosted by NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas.
Had Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome not won the Preakness Stakes on May 17 and set himself up to possibly win the Triple Crown, NBC Sports would have devoted about seven hours of coverage to the Belmont, Miller said. The last horse to win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978.
|NBC Sports’ coverage at Belmont will begin hours away from the finish line. Included will be a documentary on Triple Crown candidate California Chrome hosted by Bob Costas.
The Kentucky Derby always draws a big audience, regardless of the horses running; this year’s event drew 15.2 million viewers. But the number of people who tune in for the Belmont Stakes varies wildly, depending on whether there is a Triple Crown at stake (see chart).
That 2004 running of the Belmont also drew a record crowd of 120,139 to Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., said David O’Rourke, vice president of corporate development for the New York Racing Association. The NYRA owns Belmont as well as Aqueduct and Saratoga.
As of last week, all of Belmont Park’s 26,000 seats from the dining areas to the grandstand were sold out, O’Rourke said. Those tickets are priced from about $1,000 at the trackside tent area to the lowest $20 grandstand seat. General admission without an assigned seat costs $10, and attendance always depends on walk-up business the day of the race, O’Rourke said.
The Belmont on TV
|Year||Network||Avg. viewership (millions)||Triple Crown contender||Winner|
|2011||NBC||6.8||None||Ruler On Ice|
|2008||ABC||13.1||Big Brown||Da’ Tara|
|2007||ABC||4.9||None||Rags To Riches|
|2003||NBC||15.7||Funny Cide||Empire Maker|
|1999||ABC||9.3||Charismatic||Lemon Drop Kid|
|1998||ABC||9.1||Real Quiet||Victory Gallop|
|1997||ABC||8.2||Silver Charm||Touch Gold|
* Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another scratched the day before the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
Source: NBC Sports
The race draws about 100,000 when a Triple Crown is at stake, versus about 50,000 when there is no chance of a Triple Crown winner. This year, LL Cool J will perform on Saturday and Frank Sinatra Jr. will sing “New York, New York,” traditionally performed during the post parade before the race.
“The over/under is 100,000,” O’Rourke said.
In recent years, NBC Sports has focused its Kentucky Derby coverage not just on the sporting aspect of the race but also on entertainment elements, including having entertainment reporters cover the celebrities who arrive on the red carpet at Churchill Downs.
That is not the plan for NBC’s coverage at the Belmont this year, Miller said.
“There will be celebrities there, but I think this is more of a historic event in sports,” he said. “It is something you almost have to watch.”