Heading into the 2016 Kentucky Derby many pundits predicted that American Pharoah’s 2015 Triple Crown win would give viewership–and perhaps the entire sport of horse racing–a boost. That turned out to not be the case. For whatever reason, the public never got enthused over pre-race favorite and eventual favorite Nyquist. If there was greater than usual interest in seeing the horse that could potentially become the next Triple Crown winner it didn’t counteract an overall decline in ratings from 2015.
The final ratings for the 2016 Kentucky Derby broadcast on NBC were down 6.3% from a year ago. The rating for last Saturday’s broadcast was a 9.0 compared to the 9.6 a year ago. Share for the 2016 Kentucky Derby was a 21, down 8.7 percent from a share of 23 last year. Share measures the percentage of TVs in use that are tuned to a particular program. The 2015 Kentucky Derby drew ratings that were 7% better than 2014 and the most of any ‘Run for the Roses’ in over twenty years. In retrospect, that bump might have had more to do with the huge rock star like popularity of 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome. At age six, Chrome is still the biggest draw in racing while American Pharoah is retired to stud.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the ‘serious’ horse racing press did the same thing with Nyquist that they did with American Pharoah last year. The horse racing media took every opportunity to dismiss the chances of the eventual Kentucky Derby winner. With American Pharoah, they did so up until post time suggesting that he would be ‘exposed’ by stablemate Dortmund. With Nyquist, they became strangely quiet after the Florida Derby when “their” favored horse, Mohaymen, finished fourth behind the eventual Kentucky Derby winner.
As is the case every year, the Louisville market posted the highest rating numbers for any individual US metro area. The host city of the Kentucky Derby posted a huge 33.7 overnight rating made all the more impressive by the fact that the live attendance at the race was the second highest in history. The rest of the top ten included Cincinnati (16.6), Fort Myers (16.5), West Palm Beach (14.6), Tampa (14.2),Buffalo (13.6), Richmond (13.3), Pittsburgh (13.1) and Hartford (12.5) with Denver, Orlando and Jacksonville tied at 12.2.