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‘Match’ Clicks With Viewers Hungry for Live Events

Turner Sports’ live telecast of a charity golf tournament featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning scored big ratings numbers, continuing a trend of strong showings for the return of live sports events amid the pandemic.

A cumulative 5.8 million viewers watched Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods tee off in ‘The Match.’

A cumulative 5.8 million viewers watched Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods tee off in ‘The Match.’

The May 24 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 was one of a small-but-growing number of live sports events that have taken place since the pandemic forced the shutdown of most events in mid-March. Most 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 telecast since the pandemic broke out. The May 17 race at Darlington drew 6.3 million viewers on Fox — the second-best race performance this season for Fox Sports, according to Nielsen.

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 UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Harris on May 16 after generating a reported 700,000 pay-per-view buys on ESPN Plus for UFC 249 on May 9.

With most live sports sidelined since
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.

More sports are making their way back to television, sans live audiences: pro bowling, auto racing events and a potential boxing match are on deck for June, with plans announced for the National Hockey League to conduct a Stanley Cup Playoffs tournament and Major League Baseball negotiating with the players about starting a shortened season. Berke said demand 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.”