ESPN History

‘Rare aberration’ in ratings results in comic relief from Letterman

2012's Euro Championship saw 21 matches air on ESPN. (Getty Images)
2012’s Euro Championship saw 21 matches air on ESPN. (Getty Images)

Media reports on ESPN’s second quarter ratings decline from the same period in 2012 peaked last night when even David Letterman jumped in with a mock “Top Ten” of the network’s lowest rated programs.

The reason for the drop? It is largely attributable to the end of 2012’s NBA lock-out shortened schedule being particularly strong.

You might recall the end of the season last year was back-loaded with a big increase in highly rated games (23 over a month in 2012 versus eight in 2013). This was combined with fewer Conference Finals contests (seven from the Eastern Conference in 2012 compared to three in the 2013 Western Conference). The lack of major market teams’ appearances on ESPN — in 2012 the Lakers and Heat combined for 11 ESPN appearances but just two in 2013 — also factors in.

Boston was featured in 10 2012 playoffs games but only two in 2013, resulting in fewer marquee players in marquee cities to drive viewership. In all, ESPN had 31 fewer NBA games, which not only affected game ratings but also hurt studio shows that routinely get a post-game lift.

Additionally in 2012, ESPN benefitted from 21 Euro Championship matches. This year, ESPN had the Confederations Cup, but it was only about half as many matches with lesser national interest.

“Last quarter was a rare aberration and we expect our demographic delivery to return to normal levels in the second half of 2013,” said ESPN Senior VP of Research and Analytics, Artie Bulgrin.

As Letterman said Wednesday night, “people love the ESPN.”

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