Sure, it was not the fifteen or twenty million viewers that could have been expected if I’ll Have Another raced, but The Belmont Stakes still earned a decent-sized audience Saturday.
The race portion of The Belmont Stakes drew a 4.8 final rating and 7.67 million viewers on NBC Saturday evening, up 12% in ratings and viewership from last year (4.3, 6.840M), and up 60% and 62%, respectively, from the 2010 race on ABC (3.0, 4.735M).
Excluding years when the Triple Crown was at stake, this marks the highest rated and most-viewed edition of The Belmont Stakes since 2005 (5.4, 7.712M), and the second-most viewed on record (dates back to 1988).
In each of the four years The Belmont Stakes has aired on NBC without the possibility of a Triple Crown, the race portion earned at least 6.8 million viewers. By contrast, in six of the last seven years the Belmont aired on ABC without the possibility of a Triple Crown, the race earned less than 5.1 million — including just 3.97 million in 1996.
Despite the good numbers, the scratch of I’ll Have Another likely cost NBC several million viewers. The last time the Belmont featured a Triple Crown contender (2008), the race drew 13.096 million — and when Smarty Jones raced for the Triple Crown in 2004, the race drew a whopping 21.889 million.
Even with that disappointment, the Triple Crown races performed well for NBC this year. The network averaged 10.34 million viewers for the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness Stakes, and The Belmont Stakes, up 2% from last year (10.12M), and up 24% from 2010 (8.34M).
Average Viewership For the Triple Crown (Derby, Preakness, Belmont)
Dating back to 2000
* ABC aired all races in 2000, NBC aired all races from 2001-05 and 2011-present; both networks aired races from 2006-10
(Saturday’s numbers, Triple Crown averages from NBC Sports Group press release)