Well, it looks like NBC knows a thing or two about promoting an event. The 2017 Kentucky Derby Viewership numbers are the highest this century after accumulating 16.543 million sets of eyeballs using traditional television and new digital platforms.
The 18.5 million mark from Sunday Silence’s win in the 1989 renewal is still the record for highest Kentucky Derby viewership.
But that record in 1989 was at the height of a sport that had nation-wide interest. From 1990 through 2000, the Kentucky Derby viewership numbers began to free fall from 15.6 million all the way down to just 9.1 million during a pretty consistent downward trend.
Then in 2001, the number jumped way back up to 13.5 million and has hovered around there ever since. The major difference? The derby was being broadcast by ABC up until 2000 before rights were transitioned to NBC. From there it’s been a steady climb back to the top.
Kentucky Derby viewership peaked with Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010, Orb in 2013 and American Pharoah in 2015. In all of those years, there were more than 16 million watching the race, which seems to be the magic number for a “rousing success”.
There’s no real rhyme or reason for these Kentucky Derby viewership numbers as it relates to the storylines provided by writers like myself. American Pharoah’s popularity didn’t balloon until after the race, and the same can be said for California Chrome who drew 15.3 million in 2014.
The 2017 Kentucky Derby felt especially flat in terms of narrative. Always Dreaming was a relative unknown, having streamed through the Florida Derby with ease. Other known commodities like Classic Empire, Irish War Cry and McCraken kept making it difficult to crown a rightful favorite because they kept turning up unexpected losses.
It’s obvious that none of this had an impact on the brilliant effort managed by NBC to continue growing both the sport, its fanbase and its popularity. Numbers don’t lie.
|YEAR||KENTUCKY DERBY VIEWERSHIP||WINNER|
|2017||16.543 million||Always Dreaming|
|2015||16.1 million||American Pharoah|
|2014||15.3 million||California Chrome|
|2012||14.8 million||I’ll Have Another|
|2011||14.5 million||Animal Kingdom|
|2010||16.49 million||Super Saver|
|2009||16.1 million||Mine That Bird|
|2008||14.2 million||Big Brown|
|2007||13.7 million||Street Sense|
|2004||14.6 million||Smarty Jones|
|2003||11.8 million||Funny Cide|
|2002||12.8 million||War Emblem|
|2000||9.1 million||Fusaichi Pegasus|
|1989*||18.5 million||Sunday Silence|