06/08/2004 12:00AM

Belmont highest-rated TV program of week


NEW YORK - NBC-TV's broadcast of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday was the highest-rated sports program since the Super Bowl broadcast on Feb. 1, NBC officials said on Tuesday.

The final Nielsen rating for the Belmont broadcast, an 11.3 with a 26 share, was the highest-rated program for the week ended Sunday, and higher than the ratings for this year's NCAA Championship game between Georgia Tech and the University of Connecticut, the first game of this year's NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons, and the final round of the Masters golf tournament, according to NBC.

The rating measures the number of homes tuned in to the broadcast, with each rating point equal to approximately 1 million households. According to NBC research, 33 million people watched the broadcast. Share measures the percentage of households with television sets turned on that were tuned into the broadcast, meaning one in four households with a television on at the time of the Belmont were tuned to the broadcast.

Ratings for the Belmont Stakes have shot up markedly since 2000, the final year that the Belmont and the other Triple Crown races were broadcast on ABC. The 2000 Belmont had a final rating of 2.8 with a 9 share, the lowest in history, but the figures have soared every year since.

In 2001, the rating was a 4.5 with a 13 share, up 61 percent compared to the historical low. In 2002, when War Emblem started a string of three ultimately unsuccessful attempts to win the Triple Crown, the rating increased 69 percent to a 7.6 with a 21 share.

The 2003 figures increased again, as Funny Cide captured the country's imagination, rising 25 percent to a 9.5 rating and a 23 share. This year's final rating is a 19 percent gain over the 2003 figure.

NBC purchased the rights to the Triple Crown in 2000 in a five-year deal reportedly worth $55 million, outbidding ABC by at least $10 million. At the time, many television executives criticized the deal as too costly, considering that racing was struggling to maintain its popularity.

This year's Belmont rating was the highest since 1981, NBC said. That year, when Pleasant Colony attempted to win the Triple Crown, the rating was a 12.6 with a 36 share.