Are we what we watch? When it comes to defining sports fandom, probably.
The Star obtained local television ratings for most of the major sports events, teams and leagues for 2016 and some results are obvious:
▪ Kansas City loves to watch baseball, and not only the Royals.
▪ The Chiefs pull big ratings. So does all of pro football.
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▪ Kansas basketball is a ratings winner, as is college basketball in general.
But there are some surprises too. Kansas City wasn’t all in on the NBA and LeBron James, but the Olympics played well here.
Sunday’s Super Bowl brings an unofficial end to the sports watching year — or perhaps the beginning of a new year. Either way, the Patriots-Falcons game, the buzz-generating Super Bowl ads and Lady Gaga’s halftime show on Fox surely will be the most-watched TV broadcast of the year nationally, and it’s a good crossroads to examine sports watching trends. Super Bowls occupy the top seven and 19 of the top 20 most-watched broadcasts in U.S. history.
Kansas City has done its part for the viewership and should again this year.
Last year, when the Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Kansas City ranked 18th of 56 metered markets with a 52.4 rating and 75 share for the game on CBS.
That was a lower figure than the previous year, when the Patriots beat the Seahawks. Kansas City was seventh nationally with a 54.5 rating and 75 share.
A rating refers to the percentage of households that tuned in to watch a program. According to Neilsen, there are 118.4 million television homes in the U.S. for 2016-17. Kansas City has about 0.8 percent of them, or 919,020.
If 25 million tuned into a show on network TV, that program earned a rating of 21.1 percent, and a network would take that for just about anything other than a Super Bowl or high-profile football game.
A share represents the percentage of TV sets in use and tuned to that program. Sticking with the same numbers, if 25 million people were tuned into the show and 75 million households were watching TV, the share is 33 percent. So, the program had a 21.1 rating and a 33 share.
The Kansas City market is the 33rd largest nationally. We’re a shade smaller than Nashville, Tenn., and Columbus, Ohio, a bit larger than Milwaukee and Cincinnati. A single ratings point in Kansas City represents 9,190 TV homes if the broadcast originates on a network: ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox.
Not every household has cable. In Kansas City, about 78 percent of households have cable or satellite. Nearly all of those have access to ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports Kansas City and Fox Sports 1.
There are 210 local TV markets in the United States, and Kansas City can be described as among the smaller of the bigs, and that helps explain high viewing percentages, according to John Ourand, a media reporter for Sports Business Journal.
“There’s not an exact science to TV ratings, but media executives have two theories when it comes to bigger market TV ratings,” Ourand said. “The general rule is that more choices equal lower ratings.”
Choices such as two baseball teams in a market, like the Yankees and Mets in New York or Cubs and White Sox in Chicago.
“In KC,” Ourand said, “it’s just the Royals.”
Also, total viewers, not percentage in a market, is the important number for executives. When the Royals beat the Mets in Game 5 to capture the 2015 World Series, the game delivered a whopping 60.0 rating in KC and a 25.5 in New York. But the Sunday Night Football game between the Broncos and Packers that night drew nearly 6 million more viewers.
No matter what’s on your dial, Kansas City contributed to big ratings numbers for the Royals, Chiefs and KU basketball in 2016 and the first few weeks of 2017.
For the second straight year, the Royals led Major League Baseball in local ratings, according to Nielsen. Games on Fox Sports Kansas City averaged a 10.9 household rating for the season. The Cardinals were second in local-market broadcasts at 8.2.
On Aug. 29, the Royals’ victory over the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium was the highest-rated broadcast on FSKC, an 18.4 rating.
The Royals fell from 95 victories and a World Series title in 2015 to 81 wins in 2016, but the regeneration of baseball fans in the market continued. For the second straight year, Kansas City was the top local market for the MLB All-Star Game broadcast.
Even when the Royals weren’t involved, Kansas Citians watched baseball. Kansas City was the fifth-ranked market for the World Series between the Cubs and Indians and No. 2 for Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, one spot higher than in 2015.
“The success has brought people back to the game in this market,” said Kevin Uhlich, Royals senior vice president for business operations.
Unfortunately for the Royals, they cannot currently cash in on the popularity. In 2008, the team signed an 11-year contract with Fox Sports that’s worth $20 million annually.
Since then, several teams have signed deals much more lucrative. In 2015, the Cardinals signed a contract with Fox Sports Midwest for $1 billion over 15 years.
“It will soon be time to talk about (a new deal),” Uhlich said. “That usually happens a couple of years in advance.”
The Chiefs’ AFC Divisional playoff game with the Steelers, moved from noon to an evening kickoff to avoid an ice storm, could clear the path for more NFL playoff games to be played on Sunday evening.
The game drew a 21.9 rating and 34 share, including a 55.2/72 in Kansas City. The 37.1 million viewers were the most for a prime time NFL Wild Card or Divisional playoff game.
The Chiefs were an NBC favorite in 2016, appearing in four regular-season prime time games. Some 21.4 million watched the Chiefs beat the Broncos on Christmas night at Arrowhead.
Those appearances helped Kansas City become the No. 7 market for NBC’s Sunday Night Football with an average 16.9/26. Denver topped the list at 21.8/36, followed by Milwaukee and Seattle.
Kansas City’s 21.9 rating on CBS — the Chiefs’ primary network as an AFC team — ranked third nationally, and the 8.3 rating for Monday Night Football on ESPN ranked 24th.
With Kansas as the top local draw, Kansas City ranked third nationally on ESPN college basketball telecasts for 2015-16, behind Louisville, Ky., which has ranked first for 14 straight years, and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
The Jayhawks’ victory over Kentucky last weekend marked the highest-rated game on the ESPN network this season, a 2.0 nationally and a 12.3 in Kansas City.
Kansas City was the No. 2 market for the 2016 NCAA Tournament, a 14.3 rating on games broadcast by CBS and the Turner networks.
Trends also were favorable for Sporting Kansas City and MLS. The Seattle-Toronto MLS Cup final averaged 1.4 million viewers on Fox and was the most watched title game since 2001. Sporting will appear four times in ESPN and four times in Fox Sports 1 this season.
What else has Kansas City sports viewers enjoyed lately?
The Olympics, for one.
Kansas City was the No. 14 market for the Summer Games in Rio on NBC. Over the two-week event, Kansas City pulled a 16.4/28, with Salt Lake City, Denver and Indianapolis as the top three.
But Kansas City scored a similar number — 16.6/27 — for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on NBC, ranking fifth nationally.
Numbers spike with fortune and lag when a local team isn’t winning. Take college football, where Kansas City ranked 36th on all ESPN broadcasts. Missouri experienced its second straight losing season in 2016. That’s also likely reflected in Kansas City’s No. 26 ranking for SEC games on CBS.
Sometimes local pride kicks in. The U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Sprint Center earlier this month drew a primetime low for the ladies’ free skate on NBC. But Kansas City tied for sixth among local markets.
Also, in 2016, the audience grew for live streaming and social media broadcasts. NFL games could be viewed on Twitter. Games have become available on personal screens and are part of measuring total audience.
Where Kansas City ranks
Here’s where local sports TV ratings in Kansas City ranked among the top 56 designated market areas in 2016. The KC market is the 33rd largest in the country. Kansas City’s national ratings rankings below are for selected broadcasts, series and standalone events:
MLB local ratings
Fox Sports Kansas City
Sunday Night Baseball
U.S. Figure Skating championship
Super Bowl 50
Premier League soccer
Stanley Cup Final
Masters final round
NBA regular season