For the first time since its launch 25 years ago, ESPN2 will not finish the year as the second-most-viewed sports TV channel.
Even with three weeks left in the TV ratings year, it’s clear that ESPN2 will fall all the way to fourth in both prime time and total day viewership. That puts the network behind both NBCSN and FS1 — both of which posted record high viewership for their channels this year in the time period from Jan. 1-Dec. 2.
ESPN remained the most-watched sports channel by a wide margin — a position that does not seem likely to change any time soon.
Ratings upswings in the current television environment are not the norm, especially among many of the top sports. NBA ratings are down early, NASCAR ratings continue to slump and MLB ratings provided a mixed bag last season (Fox and MLB Network were up; ESPN and FS1 were down).
NFL numbers look gaudy so far this season. And many of the sports networks saw ratings increases in 2018.
“In the world of TV today, growth stories are few and far between,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports.
NBCSN was helped by the Pyeongchang Olympics, which accounted for 13 of the 20 most-watched shows on the network. NBCSN also was helped by four NASCAR races and three NHL playoff games — Games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and the Golden Knights; and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Capitals and the Lightning.
“The Olympics were definitely a positive, but it was the fourth Olympics on NBCSN,” Lazarus said. “The NHL, NASCAR, English Premier League all drive ratings and drove our growth. We have every confidence that we will continue to build properties with our audiences.”
The NBC-owned Golf Channel also set a viewership record, as its average of 113,000 total day viewers is up 7 percent from last year. The channel placed sixth among sports networks, behind NFL Network and above MLB Network.
FS1’s gains come from its coverage of the World Cup and Big Ten football, plus the MLB playoffs, which included coverage of the NLCS Game 7 between the Dodgers and the Brewers.