TV Ratings: Superbowl, BCS, March Madness … or Your Government

TV Ratings: Superbowl, BCS, March Madness … or Your Government

Do Americans care more about their taxes, the 2nd amendment, jobs … or sports? The high point for Americans tuning into the Presidential Election was the first debate, and here is the breakdown of how that event compares to the Superbowl and the two other sports championships approaching the $1 billion revenue mark – March Madness and the new 4-team BCS championship:

Sports top event Biggest championship viewership Millions of viewers
1 Superbowl Ravens defeat 49ers 108
  Governing the US Romney defeats Obama (in 1st debate) 67
2 Olympics Olympic Closing Ceremonies (4 yrs) 31
3 BCS Alabama defeats Notre Dame 26
4 March Madness Kentucky Defeats Kansas 21
5 NBA Title Heat defeat Thunder Game 5 18
6 World Series Giants defeat Tigers Game 4 16
7 Horse Racing Kentucky Derby 15
8 NASCAR Daytona 500 14
9 Golf The Masters 13
10 Stanley Cup Stanley Cup 3

Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, the first Presidential debate was not an actual championship. Viewer polls gave him the most decisive victory in the history of Presidential debates, and yet he seemed to go into a prevent defense in the next two debates and lost the election two months later.

Non-sports fans cannot comprehend how more people can care about the results of sports events – which have no impact on their lives unless they bet on sports – than elections that can impact every aspect of their lives. The 67 million people that tuned into the first Presidential debate topped all championships except the Superbowl – but it still represents fewer than one-third of Americans (though presumably a higher percentage of voters).

The Superbowl dwarfed that number – pulling in about 108 million viewers. The NFL pulls in about $3 billion in TV revenue from all games, and about $9 billion overall.

College football as a whole has become the second most popular sport behind the NFL, and that gap will continue to widen as polls show it picked as the second most popular sport by far among those 24 and under, while baseball is the second choice among those over 50.

However, when it comes to the actual championship, college basketball’s March Madness is the third of the Big Three on Television – as the Superbowl, BCS and March Madness finale are the only three events for which advertisers will pay $1 million per commercial.

March Madness pulls in about 140 million viewers over the three weekends, and the second half of the Kansas-Kentucky matchup had higher ratings than the second half of the Alabama blowout of Notre Dame.  From the revenue side, March Madness as a whole pulled in about three times as much as the BCS title game, and if advertisers increase their spending by 21 percent like they did last year, then March Madness would reach about $940 million in revenue – knocking on the door of $1 billion in three weekends of games.

College football is just hitting the $1 billion mark for the whole season, but some believe the 4-team playoff system for the BCS will take the new playoffs close to a $1 billion in just two weekends, with one major executive predicting the four-team format will make it bigger than the Superbowl.  Currently, the NFL semifinals (AFC and NFC championship games) are generally the 2nd and 3rd most watched programs, so the NFL does rule TV, but March Madness and the BCS complete the trio, except for once every four years when the Summer Olympics beat out the latter two.

The other professional sports have the advantage of cashing in for entire championship series, and Lebron James’ quest for his first title helped the NBA Championships outdraw the World Series for the fourth time in five years – both for the entire series and for the top game. Major League baseball stadium attendence is unmatched – rising in recent years and with the huge advantage of an 162-game schedule, so that is offsetting the steady dropoff in TV viewers.

The huge push to make the NHL more than just a Canadian sport started with the pressure to move Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to the media center of Los Angeles. However, years later the Stanley Cup finals still lag well behind all of those sports as well as the top events in golf, horse racing and car racing.

While some would prefer we only focus on politics, Andrew Breitbart reminded us that politics is always downstream from culture, and sports has become an even bigger part of the culture. As debates about the 2nd amendment, traditional marriage laws and taxes have all been front and center in sports forums in recent weeks, we cannot ignore sports.

At very least, it can be preserved as a safe haven from the political agenda that is so prominent in other entertainment influencing Americans.