Live Sports Telecasts Delivering Knockout Ratings

Turner Sports’ live telecast this past Sunday of a charity golf tournament featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning scored big ratings numbers, continuing a trend of strong ratings performances from the return of live sports events amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The May 24 Capital One The Match: Champions for Charity drew 5.8 million viewers across TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN, according to Nielsen. The event, which generated  $20 million for COVID-19 relief efforts, was the most-watched golf telecast in cable TV history, according to Turner.

The Match event marked one of a few but growing number of live sports events that have taken place since the pandemic forced the shutdown of most events in mid March. Most sports events that have returned have brought a large following of fans to TV screens. 

Fox Sports has averaged nearly 4 million viewers for its first three live NASCAR telecasts, led by its first post-pandemic telecast. The May 17 race at Darlington drew  6.3 million viewers on Fox Broadcasting -- the second best performing race this season on Fox Sports, according to Nielsen.  

RELATED: Fox Sports Revs Up For NASCAR Return 

ESPN has pinned down some impressive numbers for its live UFC telecasts. The sports network averaged more than 1.2 million viewers for the main card of its May 16 UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Harris telecast after generating a reported 700,000 pay-per-view buys for its May 9 UFC 249 event.

With most live sports sidelined since early March due to the coronavirus outbreak, industry observers say sports fans have been salivating for live sports events, whether or not they were big fans of the sport being televised.

“The audience for televised sports is not going away --if anything it’s getting larger and perhaps more passionate because they miss what they haven’t been able to see during the past few months,” sports analyst Lee Berke said.

As more sports make their way back to television -- pro bowling, auto racing events and a potential boxing match are on deck for June -- Berke said that viewership for live sports events will only increase.

“You can’t go out to games, you can’t go out to shows, you can’t go to the movies, so the audience is starving for live events and content,” he said. “If sports can be brought back safely there’s a ready-made, large audience ready to watch.” 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.