2008 Viewership Surges on Big Brown Triple Crown Try
6/13 Update: Big Brown fell short, far short, in the 2008 Belmont Stakes, but viewership soared to its 3rd highest level since 1991 at 13.1 million.
You'd expect that viewership for the Belmont Stakes, as the third race in the Triple Crown, would spike when a Triple Crown winner is possible. In fact, the results are quite varied. Sometimes the viewership rises sharply as in 2002 (War Emblem), 2003 (Funny Cide) and 2004 (Smarty Jones). But other years the increases are quite modest as in 1997 (Silver Charm), 1998 (Real Quiet), and 1999 (Charismatic).
My guess is that it's likely that the network and/or broadcast time has a lot to do with the results. ABC had the broadcast from 1986-2000, and NBC had it from 2001-2005, and ABC has had it since 2006. I don't have any data (or any personal knowledge) of why NBC does so much better, as they have with the Kentucky Derby, but both telecast time and program format were suggested by our earlier commenters.
I'd expect this year's viewership to be high by ABC telecast standards, certainly over 8 million, but unless they've changed something radically in the past year, unlikely to reach the recent NBC heights over 20 million.
6/6 Update: Here is a PDF file with some related data from Nielsen.
Belmont Stakes TV Ratings Data, 1972-2008:
|1990||5.3||16||ABC||Go and Go|
|1999||7.95||6.0||17||ABC||Lemon Drop Kid|
|2007*||4.86||3.2||8||ABC||Rags to Riches|
*LIVE+SD viewing. Prior years are LIVE viewing.
**Triple Crown winner
Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.