Live Sports Content Scores on October Cable Ratings Charts

Eddie Rosario #8 of the Atlanta Braves slides safely into second base ahead of the tag of Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eighth inning of Game Two of the National League Championship Series at Truist Park on Oct. 17, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Image credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Live sports programming scored big ratings numbers for several cable networks in October, as nearly half of the month‘s top 10 most-watched networks in primetime offered multiple high-profile live sports events. 

ESPN was primetime‘s most-watched cable network from Sept. 27 to Oct. 31, averaging 2.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Leading the way was Monday Night Football, which averaged more than 13.5 million viewers during the period, said Nielsen. Coverage of Major League Baseball‘s postseason, college football and the new National Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons also contributed to the network’s primetime win. 

TBS finished third for the month with 2 million viewers on the strength of its postseason baseball coverage. Its MLB playoff games averaged 4.4 million viewers, including an average of 5.2 million viewers for its Los Angeles Dodgers-Atlanta Braves National League Championship Series coverage, reported Sports Media Watch. 

FS1 pulled into sixth place with 921,000 viewers, largely on its coverage of baseball‘s American League playoffs as well as its college football telecasts, while NFL Network finished 10th with 683,000 viewers, buoyed by Thursday Night Football.

With all four networks posting year-to-year gains in October, sports analyst Lee Berke, president and CEO of LHB Sports, said viewers are back to consuming live sports programming in big numbers. “With the league schedules back to where they’re supposed to be seasonally, with no presidential election to contend with and with sports telecasts [enhanced by] featuring audiences in the stands, it all adds up to strong ratings performances for live sports programming,” he said. 

Fox News Channel finished second in the primetime race for the month with 2.3 million viewers, while MSNBC finished fourth with 1.2 million viewers. Hallmark Channel was fifth with 926,000 watchers, HGTV claimed the seventh slot with 907,000 viewers, TLC was eighth with 803,000 viewers and INSP came in ninth with 775,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.

On the total-day front, Fox News was first with 1.4 million viewers, followed by ESPN (892,000 viewers), MSNBC (680,000), TBS (627,000) and Hallmark Channel (547,000), Nielsen said. 

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.