Audience Insights: Medal-Worthy Stats on Sports Viewership

09.14.2023 David Gustafson4 min

My exploits as a competitive athlete were neither revolutionary nor worthy of being televised.  As a basketball player, I interpreted the coach’s encouragement to “shoot if you’re open” to mean I should launch one from just inside the halfcourt circle before the defense was set.  The ensuing airball quickly landed me a reservation on the bench. 

Likewise, my baseball debut earned me a designated seat in the dugout after I badly misjudged an easy fly ball to center that would have rolled all the way to the fence – had there actually been a fence to stop it.  Then there was tennis, the sport that would honor me with a Mental Attitude Award – a seemingly concocted trophy that said, in not so many words, “With your skill level, we’re amazed you lasted all season.”

My personal athletic “achievements” notwithstanding, I’ve remained a lifelong sports fan – something that puts me in good company.  According to Statista research conducted earlier this year, 75% of U.S. adults consider themselves sports fans.  Given the high level of interest and a growing number of leagues and events, it’s no surprise that sports and television continue to be trusted teammates.

According to custom insights provided by our partners at the VAB, U.S. television viewers watched nearly 19 billion hours of live sports programming during the 12-month period from July 2022 through June 2023. 

Equally as impressive, live sports telecasts represented 24 of the top 25 most-watched primetime telecasts of 2022 – and 42 of the top 50, according to Variety’s analysis of Nielsen national data. 

With next summer’s Paris Olympics adding to an already impressive slate of sports opportunities in the weeks and months ahead, here now is a look at some medal-worthy TV sports performances:    

  • 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 showing that 87% of the overall viewership for live sports telecasts happens in real time.  When pausing and same-day playback are added in, an astounding 99% of 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 an estimated 14,700 live sporting events airing on national TV networks from July 2022 through June 2023.  Nearly 13,000 of those – approximately 88% – aired on ad-supported Cable networks, with the remainder airing on Broadcast networks.

  • GOLD: Playoff advertising opportunities within Cable sports are growing.

Cable sports coverage goes well beyond the regular season.  Approximately 85% of live playoff telecasts air on ad-supported Cable networks – and that figure grows to 87% when filtered for the “big four” major leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL).  Overall, the VAB analysis shows that the advertising impressions available within playoff telecasts are up 3% vs. five years earlier, with Cable’s championship delivery up by an impressive 7% during that span.

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, we hope you remember that your Cox Media team is here to help make sure your next campaign does not leave you blurting out the same exasperated “jiminy Christmas fudge” that a certain high school baseball coach exclaimed while watching me play centerfield.

Questions?  Use the form to the right to connect with a Marketing Expert or contact your local Cox Media team today!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to the VAB Strategic Insights team for the tremendous analytical contributions that serve as the foundation for this article.

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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.

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