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Volume 23 No. 13
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Pandemic has viewers searching for live sports

Early viewership numbers from the return of live sports suggest that a pent-up demand of viewers exists for any kind of live competition.

 

In the 2½ months since U.S. leagues have taken a hiatus, sports documentaries and NFL draft coverage were the most-viewed sports shows, according to a list compiled by my colleague Austin Karp.

But over the past two weeks, two NASCAR races and two golf exhibitions — some of the only live sports available in the U.S. — found their way onto the top 25 list.

NASCAR’s first race back — the May 17 race from Darlington — averaged 6.3 million viewers, placing fourth during that time period. Its second race, the rain-delayed May 24 event from Charlotte, averaged 3.96 million viewers and placed 16th.

Turner Sports’ “The Match” with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (5.67 million viewers) placed 9th; NBC’s “TaylorMade Driving Relief” with Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff placed 18th (2.32 million viewers).

A year ago, the most-watched sports list during the same time period was dominated by the men’s NCAA Tournament (15 of the 25 most-watched shows) and NBA playoff games (four of the 25).

The production trends from the NASCAR and golf events suggest that networks are going to prioritize access.

“Being able to have that access to the golfers and being able talk to them between holes allowed us to take a deeper dive into some of the strategy and story lines and really made for some compelling TV,” said Craig Barry, Turner Sports executive vice president and chief content officer.

Fox SportsBrad Zager made similar comments about his network’s NASCAR coverage, saying that producers made a conscious decision to embrace new technologies to bring the sport closer to television viewers. He referenced Fox’s ability to conduct in-car interviews, specifically one with driver Ryan Newman during his first race back after a scary crash in the Daytona 500 back in February.

“Everybody made decisions based on what was best for the industry and the sport,” said Zager, Fox Sports’ executive producer, executive vice president/head of production and operations. “There was no pushback from our producer and director. We went into it with a blank slate.

“If we’re producing a NASCAR show today without having done it for the past 20 years and knowing the limitations that we were under, how would we do it? That’s how we viewed it,” Zager continued. “Embracing technology will allow you to do shows in the post-COVID world a little bit differently and be able to enhance them.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ and read his twice-weekly newsletter.