Updated on 09/15/2011 1:23PM

NBC's Belmont show is another 'home run'


NEW YORK - NBC again reversed the ratings slide in Thoroughbred racing's major televised events when the network's broadcast of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday earned a 4.9 overnight rating, a 44 percent increase over the overnight rating for the race last year.

The increase sustains the momentum NBC established with its broadcasts of the two previous Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. The rating for the Kentucky Derby broadcast was up 40 percent compared with last year, and the rating for the Preakness was up 56 percent.

NBC is in its first year broadcasting the Triple Crown races, taking over for ABC after ABC's 13-year Triple Crown run and 25-year history broadcasting the Kentucky Derby. Last year, NBC bid $51.5 million for the broadcast rights to the Triple Crown races for five years.

"This certainly validates the board's decision to go with NBC," said Ed Seigenfeld, the executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions. "This has been home run after home run after home run."

Saturday's Belmont broadcast, which ran from 5 p.m. Eastern to 6:30 p.m., received a 13 share, compared with a 9 share last year. Share measures the percentage of televisions in use at the time that are tuned to the broadcast. Each overnight rating point represents about 672,000 households.

Overnight ratings are measured in the 51 largest markets in the United States. The final rating for the last half-hour of the broadcast will be announced on Tuesday, and the final rating for the entire program will be announced on Thursday.

Television ratings for the Belmont Stakes and the other Triple Crown races had been in steady decline for years, coinciding with a decline in the popularity of the sport and of television ratings in general with the proliferation of new channels and other entertainment options. NBC's ratings this year were the strongest since the early 1990's, not counting Belmont broadcasts in years when a Triple Crown was on the line.

Television officials credited NBC's decision to push the post times of the races back a half-hour, which moved the last 30 minutes of the broadcasts into weekend prime-time hours. The network promoted the broadcasts heavily and eliminated any competition between the televised races and the network's coverage of the NBA playoffs.

David Michaels, the producer of the broadcasts, said Monday that he believed new fans were being attracted to racing by a general disillusionment with other sports.

"People are looking for pure sport these days, and a lot of the mainstream sports are not providing that," Michaels said. "People are looking for alternatives, and this is one of those."

Television officials said privately last week that they would be satisfied with a rating in the mid-3's, expressing the belief that a dramatic rise would be unlikely given the lack of a Triple Crown candidate. A string of three Triple Crown runs from 1997-99 generated ratings for the Belmont of 5.3 in 1997, 5.9 in 1998, and 6.0 in 1999.