Western New York TV viewers are high on hockey, indifferent to the NBA, and loyal to the Yankees when it comes to baseball. When it comes to Triple Crown horse races, our region’s TV ratings put us in the national Top 10.
The Buffalo TV market ranked fourth nationally in Nielsen ratings for the Kentucky Derby on May 3. The Derby scored a 16.8 rating here, meaning 16.8 percent of the region’s TV households were tuned in during the race, and a 32 share, or 32 percent of the households with TV sets in use.
The top ratings market for the Derby was Louisville, with a 37.8 rating, followed by Ft. Myers (21.3), West Palm Beach (17.8), Buffalo, Cincinnati (16.7), Boston (15.5), Columbus (14.4), Orlando (14.3), Tampa-St. Pete (13.6) and Indianapolis (13.6).
One large factor in ratings for a given program is the lead-in that came before it. A Bruins-Canadiens playoff game preceded the Derby on NBC on May 3 and hockey-crazed Buffalo scored the third-highest rating for that game, which of course featured a fair amount of reminders that the Derby was coming up later.
There is also the strength of horse racing in general around these parts. There are four thoroughbred tracks within a 90-minute drive of Buffalo: Fort Erie, Finger Lakes, Presque Isle Downs and Woodbine, as well as two harness tracks, Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs.
Jim Mango is the chief operating officer at Buffalo Raceway, which in addition to live harness racing features simulcast wagering and casino gambling. Mango said the Raceway drew a record crowd on Derby day.
“The place was absolutely packed,” he said. “You can tell all the people who come over from the casino, they come over all day from noon until 6 o’clock at night just to play this race. They just keep rolling in here. It’s a very nice crowd; they all have an opinion, all their friends have an opinion, and they’ve got to play their favorite horse and take a shot. And it just is tremendous.
“I just wish to heck there was a way to bottle it and make these people come back. … I find myself scratching my head. ‘Well if you find this so exciting, you can come back and do it every day.’ But it’s not going to happen.”
The crowds will return to the Raceway and to the TV screens for the Preakness, where California Chrome will try to keep hope alive for a Triple Crown next Saturday. (The Buffalo market in 2013 ranked 10th in Preakness ratings, sixth for the Derby.) Derby winner California Chrome “is a very popular horse, it has a good story to it, and we’ll see if it can keep going,” Mango said.
Mango was previously the chief operating officer at Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness, so he is well-versed in the Triple Crown road and its drawing power.
“The Kentucky Derby has become – when they say it’s the most exciting 2 minutes in sports, they are absolutely right. It’s a one-of-a-kind event that even the people who don’t follow horse racing on a day-to-day basis, they pay attention.
“The only other thing in sports that’s close to this in recent years is the March Madness tournament. For March Madness, every secretary, every person in every office has an opinion. And the Derby in the last 20 years has become one of the greatest sporting events in the history of America. It has become a fascination for even people who don’t follow horse racing.”
It’s no coincidence that horse racing and March Madness typically involve the spectators having a small financial stake in the outcome, whether through parimutuel wagering or an office bracket pool. There are also rumors that another sport popular in these parts, NFL football, can involve slightly illegal gambling by the fans. If you don’t think gambling is popular around here, you’ve never gotten stuck behind a lottery ticket buyer at a convenience store.
Mango, who moved to Western New York eight years ago, said he is always impressed by the loyalty of sports fans here.
“The popularity of the Sabres is incredible, even though they lose,” he said. “The popularity of the Bills is incredible. And it is an extremely good area for sports in general.
“The sports fans in the Buffalo area are very knowledgeable sports fans. They’ve lived it, they live it every day. This is traditionally a blue-collar area and people have struggled through tough winters and sports becomes an essential part of what gets them through life.”
• The Buffalo market ranked sixth in the Nielsen ratings for Thursday night’s first-round coverage of the NFL Draft on ESPN. The top 10 metered markets and their ratings, according to the network: Cleveland (13.0), Houston (11.6), Austin, Texas (11.3), Greenville, S.C. (10.8), New Orleans (10.8), Buffalo (10.6), San Antonio (10.2), Columbus, Ohio (8.9), Greensboro, N.C. (8.8) and Philadelphia (8.7).
• Fans of Premier League soccer can gorge themselves on Championship Sunday coverage today. NBCUniversal networks will carry all 10 matches, starting at 10 a.m. The matches and networks are: Manchester City vs. West Ham United (NBC), Liverpool vs. Newcastle (NBCSN), Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa (USA), Cardiff City vs. Chelsea (CNBC), Norwich City vs. Arsenal (MSNBC), Hull City vs. Everton (Bravo), Southampton vs. Manchester United (Syfy), Sunderland vs. Swansea City (Esquire Network), Fulham vs. Crystal Palace (E!), West Bromwich Albion vs. Stoke City (Oxygen), Manchester City vs. West Ham United (Telmundo), Liverpool vs. Newcastle United (mun2).