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Kentucky Derby TV ratings up; weather dampens handle
By Matt Hegarty
Overnight ratings for the Saturday Kentucky Derby broadcast on NBC skyrocketed this year while betting and attendance figures for the race suffered in comparison with last year’s record-setting event because of poor weather at the Louisville, Ky., track.
All in all, considering the wind and the rain, the Derby posted strong numbers for the second year in a row, with total handle on the race and the 13-race Derby Day card the second-highest figures of all time, just behind last year’s record numbers. Attendance dropped 8.8 percent from last year’s record, but the forecast of rainy and cold weather conditions all week had a significant impact on the track’s walk-up business, Churchill officials said.
The overnight rating for the 6-7 p.m. portion of the broadcast on NBC surged 16.7 percent this year, from 9.0 last year to 10.5 this year, equaling the highest rating in the past 21 years of the race, NBC said. Share was up 15 percent, to a 23 from last year’s share of 20. The overnight rating is a preliminary measure of the number of viewers for a broadcast, while the share measures the percentage of televisions in use at the time that are tuned to a specific broadcast.
The Kentucky Derby is by far the most popular race in the United States, drawing more viewers and wagering handle than any other race on any other day of the year. Only the Belmont Stakes can draw as many viewers to a racing telecast, but only if a Triple Crown is on the line.
With 19 horses in the field this year compared with 20 last year, total betting on Saturday’s Derby was $130.5 million, down 2.2 percent from the record total of $133.5 million bet last year but still the second-highest figure of all time. Total commingled betting on the entire card was $184.6 million, down 1 percent from the all-time record of $187 million, also set last year.
The records last year were set after handle on the Derby surged 18.8 percent compared to the 2011 race, and after handle on the full card jumped 13.2 percent compared to the 2011 card.
Betting declined on a soggy day at Churchill in which reported attendance of 151,616 was down 8.3 percent from last year’s reported attendance record of 165,307. According to Churchill Downs, that smaller crowd accounted for ontrack wagering on the Derby of $11.5 million this year, down 7 percent this year from 2012. Ontrack betting on the entire card dipped 11 percent, from $23.7 million last year to $21.1 million, or $2.6 million, slightly more than the difference between all-sources wagering on the card last year and this year.
In addition, betting on the card may have been impacted by system problems reported by the two largest account-wagering companies in the United States. Twinspires.com, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., directed its patrons to a specific area of its site to make wagers after newer portals malfunctioned leading up to the Derby. TVG began reporting problems with its site halfway through the Derby card, and those issues continued to impact some customers even after the Derby had been run.
Churchill said, however, that handle through Twinspires.com, the market-leading account-wagering operation in the United States, was $19.5 million on Derby Day, up 11 percent from last year. Handle on the Derby itself was $10 million, up 10 percent from last year.
The Derby was won by Orb, the 5.40-1 favorite, one of the highest-priced favorites in Derby history. The second choice was Revolutionary, at 6.40-1, who finished third. The longshot Golden Soul, 34.50-1, finished second, triggering a $981.60 payoff for a $2 exacta and a $6,925.60 payoff for a $2 trifecta.
A $1 million-guaranteed pick six ending in the Derby attracted total bets of $1,170,941. The minimum wager for the Derby pick six is $2. Last year, handle on the pick six was $1.8 million, with a $500,000 guarantee. The forecast of bad weather may have had a significant impact on the amount of money that pick-six bettors were willing to wager.
One day before the Derby, bettors wagered $14.4 million on the Kentucky Oaks, a record for the race even though the race had only 10 fillies this year, compared with 14 fillies last year. Total handle on the Oaks Day card was $45.8 million, up 14.7 percent from the record set last year of $39.9 million. Ontrack wagering on the Oaks was a record $3.1 million, up 19.2 percent.
Attendance on Oaks Day was reported by Churchill at 113,820, the second-highest of all time, behind the record of 116,046 established last year.
The rainy and cold weather not only on Derby Day, but some of the worst late April-early May weather of ALL TIME in some parts of the country played a HUGE factor in the attendance drop. Some parts of the midwest had their first-EVER MAY snowstorms leading up to the Derby, and that included Prairie Meadows, which actually had to cancel their Oaks day program due to snow. Churchill might have lost as many as 10,000 for the Oaks and 25,000 for the Derby solely from people unable to travel to Churchill because where they were simply got HAMMERED by serious rain and/or snow. The television rating jump in reality was no surprise. Sure you had the stories of Rosie Napravnik and Kevin Krigger, but the biggest reason for the jump is unlike the past two years, the Derby did NOT air opposite an NBA Playoff game whereas in 2011, because the Derby was on May 7 (day before Mother's Day and the second Sunday in May, the latest possible date for the Derby) it had to air opposite Game 3 of a NBA second round series (as much of the rest of the sports calendar was a week later into their cycles than the Derby as a result) while last year, because of the NBA lockout the first-round series were only on Games 3-4 when the Derby came up as opposed to first round series either being finished or on Game 7. That is quite significant given how the popularity of the NBA has exploded ever since LeBron James's "decision" aired on July 7, 2010 and brought a lot of people back to the NBA that had gone away for some time (NBA TV ratings are up as much as 60% from where they were just three years ago). That had to play into why the ratings for the Derby went up as much as they did. Given how well the Derby has been doing overall in recent years AND given the Derby is now one of the few events that can get a big TV rating on a Saturday night, for the 2014 Derby, if I'm at NBC, I want Churchill Downs to move post time for the Derby back from 6:30 to approximately 8:20 PM ET so I can have the Derby telecast air from 6:00-9:00 PM ET. This would not only have the race portion of the Derby telecast qualify for the prime time ratings in the "May Sweeps" (while the Derby would actually be still run in daylight), it would allow NBC to piggyback a special Saturday edition of "The Voice" (NBC's #1 show other than Sunday Night Football) immediately following the Derby telecast from 9:00-11:00 PM ET. "The Voice" has been regularly beating "Dancing With The Stars" on Mondays and Tuesdays and has even been strong against "American Idol," two shows that were once-unbeatable this season and has seen its popularity soar this year. NBC likely would have a "win-win" situation by having the Derby telecast from 6:00-9:00 PM ET with "The Voice" afterwards from 9:00-11:00 PM ET as many people who normally would go out on Saturday nights probably would stay home or have parties for both the Derby and "The Voice." It's exactly the kind of "extra" night that can be huge for NBC and also help in bringing in more of the 18-49 year old demographic that advertisers crave into Horse Racing by pairing the two together.
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