By Tom LaMarra and Lenny Shulman
The 1 1/2-hour Belmont Stakes telecast on NBC produced an overnight rating of 10.4, the highest for any horse race since the 1990 Kentucky Derby and the highest for a Belmont since 1987, when ratings were introduced. The overnight rating for the race exceeded overnight ratings for other major sporting events over the weekend.
The 10.4 overnight rating for the 5:30-7 p.m. EDT broadcast was up 13% from last year's 9.2 rating. The 24 share topped last year's 21 share. Each overnight ratings point represents 717,310 households. Overnight ratings are taken from 55 markets that represent 69% of the country.
"The key to delivering a monster number like that is getting the casual fan," NBC Sports vice president of communications Kevin Sullivan said. "I'd say this bodes well for the future."
Viewership peaked from 6:30-7 p.m. with a 12.9 27 overnight rating and 27 share. The pre-race segment (5:30-6 p.m.) produced a 7.6 rating and 17 share, up 13% from 2002. The race segment (6-7 p.m.) produced an 11.8 rating and 25 share, up 16% from last year.
The 1990 Kentucky Derby was won by Unbridled, who later finished fourth as the favorite in the Belmont that year. This year, his son, Empire Maker, got the job done and thwarted a Triple Crown bid.
The Belmont overnight rating far exceeded overnight ratings for major sporting events the same weekend. On June 6, the NBA finals on ABC garnered a 7.2 rating. On June 7, the NHL finals on ABC scored a 3.2, and the Yankees-Cubs game, featuring Roger Clemens going for his 300th win, earned a 5.2 rating.
The last round of the Masters golf tournament April 13 on CBS earned a 9.2 rating, and on April 7, the NCAA basketball championship game on CBS garnered a 12.3 rating.
The highest-rated individual markets for the race segment, according to Nielsen ratings, were Orlando, Fla. (20.7 rating and 36 share), West Palm Beach, Fla. (19.2 and 39), Baltimore, Md. (18.8 and 35), Fort Myers, Fla. (18.5 and 32), Louisville, Ky. (17.7 and 37), Hartford, Conn. (17.2 and 34), Tampa, Fla. (17 and 30), Washington, D.C. (16.2 and 29), Nashville, Tenn. (15.9 and 32), and New York City (15.6 and 28).
Belmont Park reported a crowd of 101,864, down a few thousand from last year's record of 103,222. New York Racing Association senior vice president Bill Nader said he believes this year's crowd could have been 25% larger had the weather been nice.
"I've never seen anything like it," Nader said. "People stood out in the rain from 9 a.m. until 6:40 p.m. They stuck it out. It was phenomenal."
An on-track handle record of $12,973,555 was set this year. And despite a six-horse field in the Belmont, the race generated handle of $48,081,346, the second highest in history and the biggest handle in North American history for any race with a six-horse field, Nader said.