Fox’s first crack at broadcasting the Belmont Stakes won’t carry any Triple Crown-sweeping implications, as Kentucky Derby winner Mage on Saturday failed to win the second leg of thoroughbred racing’s storied three-race series.
Coming out of the gate as a 7/5 favorite, Mage finished third in the Preakness Stakes behind Bob Baffert’s National Treasure (5/2) and Blazing Sevens (9/2). National Treasure’s victory marks the fifth straight time the Derby winner has failed to prevail in the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans, which effectively lowers the stakes for the June 10 race at Belmont Park.
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The last time a horse entered the Belmont with a shot at winning the Triple Crown was in 2018, when Justify did precisely that. The impact on TV ratings and advertising revenue is hard to overlook: per iSpot.tv data, NBC’s coverage of the 150th Belmont Stakes generated $9.55 million in sales, or nearly nine times what the network was able to scare up during last year’s far-less consequential race ($1.07 million).
Predictably, a Belmont Stakes race that has the potential to end in a rare Triple Crown coronation is of far more interest to casual viewers (and advertisers). According to iSpot, the going rate for a 30-second ad in the 2018 Belmont was $137,116 a pop, while last year’s race commanded just $21,008 per unit. That disparity is a function of the projected TV turnout; whereas the in-race segment of the 2022 Belmont averaged just 4.72 million viewers, Justify’s clincher scared up 12.7 million viewers. Demo deliveries were similarly impacted, with the 2018 Belmont averaging 2.05 million viewers age 18-49, while last year’s race drew 714,000 adults under 50.
Worth noting: Last year’s figures were boosted by the inclusion of out-of-home deliveries, which were first incorporated into Nielsen’s ratings calculus in September 2020. If the additional impressions culled from bars, restaurants and other public venues had been factored in back in 2018, the ratings gap between Justify’s win and Mo Donegal’s victory last spring would be even wider.
Fox outbid NBC for the rights to the Belmont Stakes in early 2022, inking an eight-year deal totaling more than $40 million. In addition to the cash, NYRA Bets, the advance-deposit wagering service in which Fox holds a 25% stake, secured the title sponsorship to the race. NBC has aired the Belmont since 2011, assuming the rights after legacy partner ABC/ESPN punted on a renewal. The Derby and Preakness have aired on NBC going back to 2001.
Earlier this week, Fox announced that it had lured legendary announcer Tom Durkin out of retirement to call its very first Belmont. Durkin called around 80,000 races during his 43-year career. Fox’s coverage of the event will air on Saturday, June 10, from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. EDT.
National Treasure’s surprise finish marks Baffert’s record-breaking eighth win at Pimlico and his 17th overall victory in a Triple Crown race. The trainer missed last year’s Preakness in the wake of a suspension that was levied after his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, was disqualified for failing a drug test. Baffert’s return to the winner’s circle came just a few hours after one of his horses, Havnameltdown, broke down and threw his jockey during an undercard race.
Havnameltdown was euthanized on the track.
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