Audience Insights: Cox Media Networks Bring Home the Sports Gold

05.28.2024 David Gustafson4 min

Dedicated fans continue to tune in and set viewership records, providing key sports advertising opportunities for local businesses.

During the week leading up to Memorial Day, I reunited with some old friends to relive something we had first experienced a “few” years ago when we were in college – gathering ‘round the TV to watch our underdog Indiana Pacers battle the New York Knicks in the NBA playoffs. 

Sure, some things were different this time around.  For starters, our kids were watching with us.  And instead of being on the court, former Pacers legend Reggie Miller was on the sideline as part of the TNT announcing crew.

Still, other things remained the same.  We groaned and occasionally shouted at the screen whenever a seemingly questionable call went against the Pacers.  Throughout the games, we used words like “we” and “us” when proclaiming with great certainty what “our” team needed to do.

That peculiarly passionate and often inexplicable behavior associated with fandom helps make live sports some of the most compelling content on television.  And don’t just take the word of a few Pacers fans.  According to Cox Media analysis of Nielsen national data, NBA playoff games ranked as the 24 most-watched telecasts on Cable television during the May broadcast month (Monday, April 29, through Sunday, May 26).  

Meanwhile, the Indiana Fever and rookie sensation Caitlin Clark helped propel WNBA viewership to new heights.  The team’s regular season opener against the Connecticut Sun now stands as the most-watched WNBA game ever on ESPN’s platforms.  Through the first five WNBA games this season on ESPN networks, average viewership is up 226% compared to last season.

Not to be left out, the NFL also made news in May despite having no games.  The league released its schedule for the upcoming regular season, which kicks off in September.  Once again, ESPN’s 17-game Monday Night Football slate will be a primetime performer, with more Cable-exclusive games after a 2023 season that saw ESPN outperform ABC head-to-head in the core Men 25-54 demographic.

But before we get to football, the summer brings plenty of TV sports excitement – not the least of which being the 2024 Paris Olympics.  Keeping with the spirit of the Summer Games, we have once again partnered with our colleagues on the VAB Strategic Insights team to take a refreshed look at the most medal-worthy moments in TV sports:

BRONZE: Not surprisingly, nearly all live TV sports events are viewed as they happen.

DVR usage is rare among sports viewers, with VAB analysis of Nielsen national data for full-year 2023 showing that 89% of the overall viewership for live Cable sports telecasts happens in real time.  When pausing and same-day playback are added in, an astounding 98% of Cable sports viewership happens during the same day as the event.

SILVER: Compared to Broadcast TV, ad-supported Cable networks carry seven times as many live sports events.

The VAB’s analysis of Nielsen data identified more than 15,000 live sporting events airing on national TV networks from January through December 2023.  More than 13,000 of those aired on ad-supported Cable networks, compared to less than 1,900 on Broadcast networks.

GOLD: Playoff sports advertising opportunities within Cable sports continue to grow.

As evidenced by the NBA playoffs success in May, Cable sports coverage extends well beyond the regular season.  Cable holds a similar 7-to-1 advantage over Broadcast in playoff telecasts across the “big four” major sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL).  Overall, the VAB analysis shows that Cable advertising impressions within playoff telecasts were up 3% in 2023 compared to 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

As always, we hope you find this information insightful.  More specifically, we hope these statistics help reinforce the important contribution that live sports can make to a successful multi-screen advertising campaign.  Most importantly, if – as with “my” Pacers – the season has come to an end for “your” team, we hope this serves as a reminder that the drama and excitement of TV sports carries on.  More games will be on tonight, and your potential customers will be watching.  Don’t miss out!

Questions?  Use the form to the right to connect with a Marketing Expert or contact your local Cox Media team today to learn more about sports advertising opportunities!

Headshot_David Gustafson
About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Audience Research, David drives positive outcomes for marketers by applying a unique blend of data-informed analysis, industry expertise, and storytelling skills that have earned him a tenured role as the company’s “Professor.” Specializing in audience measurement and market intelligence, David is a member of the Ampersand Cross-MVPD Research Committee, Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore.

View All of David Gustafson's Blog Posts

Connect with a Marketing Expert

Share Post On Social

Connect With Your Local Marketing Expert

You know your business. We know advertising. Together, we can bring your business to more people. Contact a member of our team today. We’d love to help you grow.