Updated on 09/15/2011 1:15PM

Big Preakness trifecta: Ratings, handle, crowd


The Preakness Stakes meant big business Saturday for Pimlico Race Course and its new broadcast partner, NBC.

NBC's 90-minute telecast of the Preakness received a 6.0 overnight rating, a 30 percent increase over the rating for ABC's telecast last year and the highest for the Preakness since 1990. At the same time, Pimlico eclipsed records for both attendance and handle.

According to Dave Sheing, Pimlico's director of parimutuel accounting, the preliminary all-sources commingled wagering on the Preakness was $36.5 million, and separate-pool wagering brought an additional $4.1 million. The combined $40.6 million figure is a 38 percent increase over the record of $29,299,076, set in 1999.

Handle benefited from heavy betting on three horses whom the public found difficult to separate: Point Given, the eventual winner who went off a slight favorite at 2.30-1; Monarchos, the Kentucky Derby winner, also at 2.30-1; and Congaree, who was 2.80-1.

Jim Mango, Pimlico's chief operations officer, credited a later post time for a portion of the increase in handle. NBC asked the Triple Crown tracks to run their races a half-hour later than normal this year to inch the broadcast into prime time for the last segment.

"NBC's decision to go late helped a lot," Mango said. "I hope it never changes because it did a lot of good."

The announced attendance at Pimlico was 104,454, surpassing the record set in 1999, when 100,311 were reported to be on the grounds. Those are the only two times that attendance at the Preakness has exceeded 100,000.

The increase in television ratings for NBC's broadcast, which ran from 5 p.m. Eastern to 6:30, followed a 21 percent increase in the ratings last year, when Fusaichi Pegasus was 1-5 in the Preakness and a popular pick to win the Triple Crown. Each overnight rating point represents approximately 675,000 households.

The telecast's share was also up double digits compared with last year, jumping to 15 from 11, an increase of 36 percent. Share measures the percentage of television sets in use that are tuned to a broadcast.

The Preakness rating follows a strong showing by NBC for its inaugural Derby telecast. Two weeks ago, the network's Derby program earned an 8.3 overnight rating, a 26 percent increase over last year.

NBC is in its first year of broadcasting the Triple Crown races after outbidding ABC and other networks for the television rights last year. NBC paid $51.5 million for the broadcast rights for five years.

NBC also holds the broadcast rights to the NBA playoffs, and the network has benefited by eliminating the competition for sports viewers between the two sports. On Saturday, an NBA playoff game between the Los Angeles Lakes and San Antonio Spurs that followed the Preakness broadcast got a 7.0 overnight rating, a 15 percent increase over the rating for a comparable game last year.

Overnight ratings are measured in the 51 largest national markets. The final rating for the prime-time portion of the telecast, from 6:00 p.m. Eastern to 6:30, will be announced Tuesday, and the final rating for the entire 90-minute broadcast will be announced Thursday.