The June 2021 edition …

Why are TV sports ratings falling? It’s a simple question with complex answers

By TOM WOOD / JUNE 25, 2021

My June 25 Nashville Ledger story explains how the sports world — and our viewing habits — changed in the 15-plus months since COVID-19 struck full-force and the great pandemic pause of 2020 began.

The lockdown immediately darkened arenas and stadiums across the country. Sometimes, months passed before major events were rescheduled or reformatted — even longer before limited attendance was finally allowed. When live sports did return to zero or reduced capacity, it was assumed by some that we would hunker down in front of the television to appease our insatiable hunger for sports and reverse the declining television ratings trends.

Reasons varied from the “archaic” ratings system to equipment problems to other viewer options like streaming, which is growing leaps and bounds, to even politics. But Vanderbilt professor John Koch says numbers don’t back the assertion.

“I’ve seen surveys where like one-third of people say that they have watched less sports because of social justice issues or what I would call activist athletes — Lebron James, Colin Kaepernick, as you named. But, you know, we have a long history of activists athletes,” Koch says, pointing to boxing legend Muhammed Ali and 1968 Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos. “So I don’t know necessarily that it’s ever affected things like ratings.

“While some people say that they’re not watching sports because of this, the Nielsen ratings don’t really back that up,” says Koch, armed with hard data to back up his point. “The NBA season before the pandemic … 28% were Democrats and 11% were Republicans who were watching NBA games. And after the George Floyd protests and other things that happened last summer, the Democratic share increased to 30% and the Republicans’ shared dropped just 1%.

“In terms of the NFL, Republicans went from 9.1 to 8.2 and Democrats went from 7.1 to 7.8. To me, that’s all kind of margin on error stuff. So while people are saying they’re not watching sports because of this, the data just doesn’t really back that up.”

Streaming, other options affect the reliability of ‘archaic’ TV ratings.

–Ledger covers designed by Mike Hopey

Nashville Superspeedway’s inaugural Ally 400 NASCAR Sup Series race was the nation’s second most-watched sports event for the Labor Day weekend, surpassed only by the NBA playoffs.

The first Cup race in the Nashville market in 37 years was televised on NBCSN, and it drew a 1.46 household rating or about 2.6 million viewers. In Nashville, it earned a 4.1 rating, which translates to 45,194 households. Read more about TV ratings and attendance here.

Here’s a look back at some of my other recent stories in the Ledger.

Father’s Day weekend big for state sports

What an incredible sports weekend this June 18-20 is going to be for NASCAR and College World Series fans in the state of Tennessee. Not only is auto racing’s Cup Series returning to the Nashvile market for the first time in 37 years to highlight the grand reopening of Nashville Superspeedway, but the Vanderbilt and Tennessee baseball teams potentially could meet for the CWS crown 10 days from now.

So while the two events put the state sports in the national spotlight, it does create a dilemma for fans and their TV-watching time. I’ll take an in-depth look at that topic next week but there are choices to be made for live viewing … especially for the UT fans on Sunday. The Vols’ first game against Virginia on Sunday afternoon on ESPN2 will be directly opposite the Ally 400 on NBCSN. In general, both events attract the same fan bases.

About an hour after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race ends, Vanderbilt begins its CWS quest on Saturday night against Arizona on ESPN. The Commodores will be opposite the U.S. Open golf championship and U.S. Olympic swimming Trials on WSMV-4 and Cardinals-Braved on Fox.

Earlier, I talked with Commodores coach Tim Corbin and his reigning CWS champion VandyBoys for the June 18 edition of the Nashville Ledger while Rhiannon Potkey takes a look at Tennessee’s journey for the Tennessee Ledger.

“I’m just happy for the team,” Commodores Coach Tim Corbin says of VandyBoys.

–Ledger covers designed by Mike Hopey

May: Hemp survives lean years, eyes future

A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about the dynamic growth of the state’s emerging hemp industry, from 226 licensed growers in Tennessee in 2018 to 3,957 in 2019. But in a demonstration of the old axiom of “what goes up must come down,” a number of factors –including the COVID-19 pandemic — led to a 50 percent drop in 2020, falling to 1,918 growers in 2020. The hemp industry rebounded slightly in 2021, with 2,009 licensed growers in all but one state.

I take a look at all those issues in the May 21 edition of the Nashville Ledger, talking with growers, academicians, Tennessee Dept. of Agriculture officials and the co-founders of an Idaho firm that has begun distributing bio-based products from Knoxville.

“So, you’re looking at prices falling by 90% over a two-year period,” says Michael Sanders, president of X-tracts LLC in Joelton, who adds he is involved “in every aspect” of taking hemp from seed to shelf. “Farmers were growing crop and they had contracts in 2019 and they thought they were gonna get $30 to $50 a pound for hemp. Today, there are people paying a dollar a pound on something that costs $4-$5 a pound to grow.”

“(Knoxville is) a vibrant city,” Hempitecture CEO Mattie Mead says of company’s distribution center there.

–Ledger covers designed by Mike Hopey

The Knoxville arrival of Idaho-based Hempitecture will be worth watching. a rising leader in the bio-based insulation industry, recently opened a distribution center in Knoxville for its hemp-based products to serve clients east of the Mississippi River.

Co-founders Mattie Mead (CEO) and (COO) Tommy Gibbons, both 30, have drawn national attention for their Hempcrete product, making the 2020 Forbes “30 Under 30” list for manufacturing. The honor cited their “hemp-based building materials that absorb CO2 emissions and improves insulation.”

“Just being young people, I think we have maybe a little bit of a different perspective than other generations, that we’ve grown up at a time where we can see impacts on the environment. We can more closely feel them and I think it’s going to be more commonplace for people our age and younger,” Mead says of his company’s mission.

“I hope, at least, we have more entrepreneurs that are focused on sustainability and stewardship of the environment because really that’s the direction that we have to go. We live in a time where EV cars were becoming more and more the norm. And Elon Musk has kind of brought sustainability and solar and EV to the mainstream.

“It’s a force that is not going to go away when we have better ways of doing things, of course, with solar and EVs, and everything really. There’s a drawback to them but because there are drawbacks to them doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make progress with them.” Read more in the Ledger’s Knoxville edition.

Here’s a look back at some of my other recent stories in the Ledger.

April: Knoxvillians boost Grand Prix

By TOM WOOD / April 9, 2021

Officially, it is known as the Big Machine IndyCar Music City Grand Prix, but Nashville’s Aug. 8 inaugural street race is truly a statewide event.

Among those who helped turn a dream into reality are a high-powered group of owner investors stretching from Knoxville businessmen Teddy Phillips, Darby Campbell and Kevin Clayton to two-time Grammy Award winner Justin Timberlake of Memphis. Read more in the April 9 edition of the Ledger here.

Organizers expect more than 100,000 fans from not only across the nation but from around the world, which will mean filled hotels, restaurants and downtown bars. And the action should be spectacular as the downtown course travels from Nissan Stadium over the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge through city streets.

“We love living here in East Tennessee but love visiting Nashville,” says Kevin Clayton.

–Ledger covers designed by Mike Hopey

Phillips says it is exciting “to be able to have an event like this and be a part of this,” and also credits Nashville city leaders as well as their event partners, the Tennessee Titans. The 2.17-mile race will begin at Nissan Stadium, roar across the Cumberland River via a 600-yard straightaway over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge into downtown Nashville and back. “Thanks to the city of Nashville and thanks to the Tennessee Titans, we’ve been able to put this thing together,” Phillips adds.

Campbell also is looking forward to the race for many years to come. “It will be a very big event. It will attract people from all over the world. It will bring eyes to Nashville — but it will also, you know, Nashville enhances it,” he says.

March: Nashville will get a Grand Prix boost

As Nashville continues to rebound from the COVID-19 global pandemic, expect at least a $20 million shot in the arm from the inaugural IndyCar NTT Music City Grand Prix on Aug. 8. Read more in the March 19 edition in the Nashville Ledger.

Organizers expect more than 100,000 fans from not only across the nation but from around the world, which will mean filled hotels, restaurants and downtown bars. And the action should be spectacular as the downtown course travels from Nissan Stadium over the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge through city streets.

“Nashville is a city primed for events,” driver Josef Newgarden says.

–Ledger covers designed by Mike Hopey

Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion (2017, 2019) who has 18 career victories, will be a homegrown favorite to win in Nashville. He grew up in Hendersonville before moving to Indianapolis to pursue his racing dreams. After living in Charlotte for awhile, he and his wife moved back to Nashville a couple of years ago.

Also included is a look at NASCAR bringing a Cup Series race back to the Midstate for the first time in 37 years when Nashville Superspeedway hosts the Ally 400 June 20 in Gladeville, about 18 miles south of Lebanon. 

As always, thanks for reading.

Tom Wood

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