Pandemic live sports: TV ratings are down but actual viewership is up

Oct 19th, 2020

Written by Ampersand Marketing

The NBA Playoffs have just concluded with Lebron James’s Los Angeles Lakers crowned victorious; the MLB World Series’ first pitch is tomorrow. Covid-induced shifts in seasonal scheduling have created an unexpected smorgasbord of overlapping live sports programming that is both exciting and maddening. While most people have their favorite sport, most sports fans love multiple sports, which has created viewing challenges to many with so many scheduling overlaps.  

So what does this mean for ratings and viewership?  

Overall TV sports ratings are down, but that should not be any cause for alarm because viewership is actually up.  This paradox can largely be attributed to Nielsen’s shift this year in methodology.  Nielsen shifted this year to measure household viewership as well as digital viewership. You may be thinking, “If they’re expanding their metrics, why are ratings down?” Well, as it relates to baseball, it turns out that not every local MLB network is measured by Nielsen (according to a recent Forbes article).

So through this lens, a more rosy picture emerges — overall sports viewership is at an all-time high. In fact, according to a recent Effectv blog post, one weekend in September reported a record 13 live sports games. Despite competing for audience attention with the NBA and NHL, MLB still garnered a 4.2% viewership increase for the 60-game regular season running from July 23 through September 27  based on P2+ (people ages 2 and up) gathered from 25 metered MLB RSNs in 2020.   

Pouring over these numbers, what’s also powerfully clear is that MLB viewership, which has seen audience growth across ages, mirrors the viewership patterns and trends overall:  viewership increases in cable over broadcast and shifts from traditional set-top-boxes (STB) to over-the-top (OTT) devices. Implementing a multiscreen TV approach when planning your next buy will help ensure these sought-after audiences are reached across time, screen and location. Brands must engage with these audiences when they have their full attention – for the sports fan, that’s during the many live games available this quarter.

In our last blog post, we shared why the power of local sports has never been greater. While that remains true, the access that consumers have to watch sports content has also never been broader. With games fragmented across CBS and Fox, to Sunday Night Football on NBC, Monday Night Football on ESPN, and Thursday Night Football, which this year is spread out across Fox, Amazon Prime/Twitch, and the NFL Network, advertisers are incentivized to strategically connect with their targeted sports audiences with a multiscreen approach.

While 2021 sports schedules remain uncertain as the pandemic may continue to disrupt usual programming, combining an audience-first approach with a plan to reach them across devices will provide a one-two punch to the additional fragmentation brought upon by the pandemic. After all, passionate sports fans are not going anywhere as they are watching more games this quarter than ever.

For a list of networks you can find premium sports and entertainment programming, review our program guide here, or contact your Ampersand representative for details.