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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Kentucky Derby Roars Back With Big TV Numbers, Inks NBC Extension

  • The Triple Crown horse race posts an extended set of audience and betting increases.
  • The positive feelings contrast significantly from last year’s spate of horse deaths.
Mystic Dan
The Courier-Journal

A year after horse racing’s biggest event was enveloped in a health scandal that rippled throughout the sport, the 2024 Kentucky Derby posted across-the-board increases in key business metrics reflecting the extent of the recovery thus far. 

Marking a significant contrast from a 2023 event that was marred by seven horse deaths leading up to the race and several more thereafter—ultimately leading to a suspension of operations at Churchill Downs for more than three months and an extended investigation—this year’s event was a massive hit in person, on television, and on betting platforms. Among the foremost results:

  • An average audience of 16.7 million on NBC Sports platforms, a 13% boost from a year ago, the race’s best total since 1989, and the network’s most-watched program since the NFL divisional playoffs in January
  • A peak viewership figure of 20.1 million, the most for an NBC Sports presentation of the Kentucky Derby
  • NBC Sports also announced a rights renewal with Churchill Downs Inc. in which it will continue to air the Kentucky Derby through 2032 
  • A Churchill Downs attendance of 156,710, up 4.2% from a year ago and the highest total since 2018, with the famed racetrack debuting a $200 million set of renovations, including a new paddock 
  • A series of betting records for the Kentucky Derby: All-sources wagering for the derby day program itself reached a record of $320.5 million, up 11% from last year’s mark that also had been a record. The all-sources handle for the entire derby week also set a record of $446.6 million, up 8% from last year

Mystik Dan, an 18–1 long shot going into the race, won in what was the Kentucky Derby’s first three-horse photo finish since 1947. But even with that drama, the brief duration of that race means that nearly all of the totals still would have happened even if the derby ended in a runaway. 

No Triple Crown Winner?

NBC Sports will now look to take this momentum into its coverage of the Preakness Stakes, scheduled for May 18. Mystik Dan, however, is not yet confirmed for that race, and trainer Kenny McPeek said it will be a “last-minute” decision. 

“Horse racing is contracting around the big days and best meets and that’s a good thing IMO,” posted Mike Mulvihill, president of insights and analytics for Fox Sports, on X. The network will carry the Belmont Stakes in June, and it also stands to benefit from a boost in horse racing. “We’re headed toward a sport that’s smaller, safer, more digital, more event-driven, [with] fewer tracks but better experiences. Embrace it.”

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