NBC Sports' coverage of last Saturday's 136th Belmont Stakes was the week's No. 1 rated show on network television while generating the event's highest national rating since 1981. NBC Sports research estimates that 33 million viewers tuned in, making it the second-most viewed Belmont in history, trailing only the 37 million who watched undefeated Seattle Slew clinch the Triple Crown in 1977.
Saturday's Belmont win by Birdstone, who thwarted Smarty Jones' attempt to win the first Visa Triple Crown in 26 years, produced an 11.3 national rating/26 share for the 5:28-7:19 p.m. ET telecast, making it the highest rated Belmont Stakes since 1981, when Pleasant Colony's failed Triple Crown bid delivered a 12.6/36. The 11.3/26 represents a 19 percent jump over last year's 9.5/23 (5:30-7:02 p.m. ET) for Funny Cide's Triple Crown attempt. The figures were released Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research.
The 11.3/26 national also ranks NBC's Belmont Stakes telecast first among the 125 primetime network programs for the week of May 31-June 6, 2004. It is the sixth-best rating since Belmont was first televised, beginning in 1960, and the best rating since Belmont coverage was expanded to 90 minutes in 1987.
The 11.3/26 national makes Saturday's Belmont Stakes telecast the highest-rated sports telecast of 2004 since the Super Bowl. The saga of Smarty Jones surpassed the national ratings of a number of prestigious events, including the UConn-Georgia Tech NCAA basketball championship game (11.0/18); Game 1 of the 2004 NBA Finals between the L.A. Lakers and Detroit Pistons (9.8/17); and final round coverage of the Masters (7.3/19), in which Phil Mickelson won his first major.
Saturday's telecast peaked from 6:30-7 p.m. ET with a 15.8/35 national rating. The pre-race segment (5:28-6:18 p.m. ET) delivered a 9.0/22 national-up 29 percent from the 7.0/18 for last year's 5:30-6 p.m. ET pre-race. The race segment (6:18-7:19 p.m. ET) produced a 13.1/29--up 22 percent from last year's 10.7/25 for the 6-7:02 p.m. ET race segment.
Overall, NBC's coverage of the 2004 Visa Triple Crown earned an 8.3/20 combined national rating for exclusive broadcasts of the Kentucky Derby (May 1), the Preakness Stakes (May 15) and the Belmont Stakes (June 5). The 8.3/20, up 22 percent from last year's 6.8/18, is the highest rating for the series since 1989 when Sunday Silence's Triple Crown try generated a 9.1/26.
In four years since acquiring the rights to the Visa Triple Crown beginning in 2001, NBC has delivered an average national rating of 7.0/18--37 percent better than the average 5.1/17 national rating in the previous four years (1997-2000), which also included three unsuccessful Visa Triple Crown tries.