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Kentucky Derby ratings down, but still strong amid pandemic

United States television ratings for the Kentucky Derby on September 5 showed both sharp drops from last year and strong results amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Preliminary data for the event shown NBC Sports showed an average of 8.3 million viewers and a 4.8 rating, the smallest viewer total on record for the key leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown, and down by nearly half from the 16.3 million viewers and 9.4 rating posted for the event last year.

Over the last 20 years, the Kentucky Derby has consistently generated between 12 million and 17 million viewers in the US, making the 2020 results quite a historical outlier.

But despite those sharp drops for this year, the 2020 Kentucky Derby results still make the race the most-watched sporting event of any kind in the US since Super Bowl LIV in February, and the most-watched sporting event in the country on Labor Day weekend in three years.

The National Football League Draft in April, though not an on-field sporting event, remains the viewership standard bearer for any US sports programming during the pandemic, though those numbers will be challenged this month with the start of the 2020 NFL regular season.

The Kentucky Derby early in the public health crisis was rescheduled from its traditional early May slotting to the September date. And after varying plans by Churchill Downs Racetrack, the event was ultimately held without attending fans. That lack of attendance curtailed the ability for celebrity red-carpet interviews that traditionally are a staple of Kentucky Derby broadcast coverage.

The race in Louisville, Kentucky, is also now situated this year in the middle of Triple Crown sequence, as opposed to the typical beginning. The Belmont Stakes were held in June and the Preakness Stakes are set for October 3, also without spectators.

Authentic won this year’s Kentucky Derby, beating out heavy favorite Tiz the Law. The event also saw protests outside Churchill Downs demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her in Louisville apartment earlier this year during a failed narcotics investigation.

Streaming for the Kentucky Derby, meanwhile, generated an average minute audience of 132,800 viewers, representing NBC Sports’ most-streamed horse racing event ever.

Betting for the event was also down sharply with total handle coming in at $79.4m, down 52 per cent from last year’s record sum of $165.5m. In addition from the loss of in-person event betting due to the lack of race attendance and the Tiz the Law standing as a heavy pre-race favorite, betting activity in the days leading up to the event was hampered by a data fee dispute between Churchill Downs and Nevada bookmakers.