Good Racing, and Good Ratings

Another Triple Crown series is in the books.  Who among us could have predicted during Derby week that the sport’s leading three-year-old stars heading into the second half of the year would be Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and yesterday’s Belmont winner, Ruler on Ice?

Belmont Park is to be commended for being such fine hosts to the 55,000+ who braved less than ideal weather Saturday.  When it comes to staging big events, the New York Racing Association takes a backseat to no one in our industry.  I also think Belmont’s Director of Racing Surfaces, Glen Kozak, deserves a special mention for what was not just a thrilling day of racing, but a safe one as well.

Those who took in the Belmont Stakes excitement from the comfort of their living room were treated to the customary fine coverage on NBC and Versus.  Congratulations to Tom Hammond, Gary Stevens, Bob Costas and the entire team at NBC Sports for three compelling telecasts.  And I thought that Triple Crown “rookie” Larry Collmus did a terrific job calling the races.  It must have been a bit unnerving for Collmus to follow a legend like Tom Durkin.  But he showed that NBC made a very fine choice following Durkin’s decision to step away.

Apparently plenty of other people liked what they saw on NBC as well.  Overnight ratings released Sunday revealed a 4.8 overnight rating and an 11 share for the race portion of yesterday’s NBC telecast.  The 4.8 overnight rating works out to about 7 million viewers, and the share number reflects the percentage of televisions in use that were tuned to the Belmont.  Those overnight ratings (which measure major market audiences) represented a 55 percent increase compared to last year’s Belmont Stakes.  Final ratings (which also take into account smaller markets) will be announced on Tuesday.  No matter what those Tuesday numbers indicate, I think this year’s Triple Crown series was definitely boosted by the continuity of having all three races on one network.  In all, an estimated 30.3 million viewers watched the 2011 Triple Crown on NBC. It also prospered from the healthy share of promotion NBC and its various other platforms devoted to the races.  One certainly couldn’t watch any of the Stanley Cup playoffs without being frequently reminded about the next big race coming up.  I wonder what Versus will do to fill the extra time now that the Triple Crown is over and Vancouver and Boston are still battling away.

Seriously, though, my heartiest congratulations go out to NYRA, NBC and Ruler on Ice’s owners George and Lori Hall—who have put their heart, soul and a healthy portion of their bank account into our game.

What memories will you take from this year’s Triple Crown races?  And what did you think of NBC’s coverage?  I’d love to read your thoughts.

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