2008: The Best-Ever Year in Sports?

Optimedia U.S. Ranks the Sporting Events That Engaged Audiences

By Published on .

Antony Young
Antony Young
Sports fans and commentators alike love to debate "best evers" -- "best ever team," "best ever finals," "best ever MVP." Surely 2008 would earn the crown "best year ever for sports" if such an award existed.

In a year in which TV was plagued by the writers strike, sports broadcasters could not have written a better script. And it showed, with great stories and live TV delivering record audiences.

Astounding displays
This year saw a super Super Bowl, with the Giants upsetting the 18-0 Patriots, decided in the final three minutes by an 83-yard drive orchestrated by Eli Manning and "that catch" by David Tyree. College basketball's Final Four weekend produced four No. 1 seeds with the Jayhawks producing a spectacular comeback and overtime win over the Tigers to bring the trophy back to Kansas. Tiger Woods has won a lot of majors, and there are likely many more to come, but we marveled over his U.S. Open win, during which he sank a birdie at the 18th hole on Sunday to force an 18-hole playoff the following day -- all while overcoming a partially torn knee ligament. All this in addition to Michael Phelps' spectacular and record-setting eight gold medals in Beijing, a revival of the NBA's oldest rivalry for the Lakers-Celtics Finals, Rafael Nadal's incredible five-set win over Roger Federer at Wimbledon, and an enthralling 22-inning baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres!
'That catch' by David Tyree during this year's Super Bowl.
'That catch' by David Tyree during this year's Super Bowl.

If 2008 was sports' best-ever year, then which sport can claim bragging rights as the best of the best of 2008? In the world of TV, we have traditionally looked to ratings to find that answer. But the media world, as everyone knows, has changed. TV and newspapers, while still the dominant media covering sports, are being complemented by digital media. Audiences are accessing these events 24/7 on websites, through streaming online video and mobile platforms. Blogs have become today's updated version of talk-back sports radio, and YouTube the citizen's highlights library.

The current year has also seen traditional media outlets become more comfortable in their digital skin. NBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics on NBCOlympics.com was a breakthrough in broadcasting. The network offered 2,200 hours of coverage online, mostly live but also with full replays and highlights.

Viewers repaid NBC's seeming embrace of new media ideals with higher ratings back on the TV screens. Last month, the NFL announced it would for the first time allow streaming of some regular-season games online. For its part, CBS streamed all 63 NCAA games of March Madness for the first time, picking up $23 million in advertising revenues.
Antony Young is author of "Profitable Marketing Communications" and president of Optimedia International U.S. Inc., a Publicis Groupe company that specializes in communications planning and media buying.

Online video changes the game
Clearly, online video is reshaping the hierarchy of media and changing the economics of sports media rights, sponsorship and advertising. Difficult-to-reach males aged 18 to 34 account for 41% of all online video viewers, according to Leichtman Research Group. Buzz, merchandise and the level of consumer interest all play a factor in a determining the commercial value of a sports event or sports team that marketers choose to support with sponsorship or advertising dollars. While this may seem obvious to many of us, until recently, few audience measurement companies seemed to get this.

Earlier this year, Optimedia developed its Content Power Ratings system, a proprietary methodology that aggregates TV ratings, web traffic, online video and mobile audiences. It also accounts for other important influencing factors: word of mouth, PR and "program appeal." It supported our approach to following the consumer across platforms, which is key, we believe, to allowing us to operate as a totally integrated media communications agency. We wanted to measure the true scale of a TV program's audience and influence.

This week we launched the "2008 Sports Edition: Content Power Ratings" report. In our industry, sports are just another form of entertainment. Entertainment is content. And content has commercial value. Content Power Ratings is the currency we are using to measure the true value of sporting events for marketers and broadcasters.

Olympics unbeatable
So back to the question "Which sports event was the best ever in the best-ever year in sports?" Perhaps it's no surprise that the Beijing Summer Olympics proved to be the best of the best, ranking No. 1 in Content Power Ratings -- though it was the online video and the media buzz measured by Content Power Ratings that allowed it to leapfrog the Super Bowl, the highest TV rater. Major League Baseball events (including the World Series, the Finals and the All-Star game) and the NFL Conference Finals filled five of the top 10 spots. The NBA Finals came in at eighth, a significant improvement over previous years, while the Stanley Cup Finals was 11th, just besting the 12th-placed NCAA Final Four.

Wimbledon was the top-ranked sports final that didn't involve an American, while wrestling (whose classification as a sport its detractors still find debatable) had two events in the top 20 -- "Wrestlemania" and "Night of Champions." The Tour de France ranked incredibly well, coming in at 27th despite being only 57th on TV, largely on the back of the press coverage and online viewership.

Evaluating the broadcasters, NBC took the gold medal on the back of its coverage of the Beijing Olympics. I'd award the silver medal to Fox Sports, which had six of the top 10 events. Finally, TNT/TBS was the best cable network, according to Content Power Ratings, beating out ESPN with properties such as the NBA All-Star Game, the British Golf Open and MLB baseball playoffs.

With three months remaining, 2008 has already proved a sporting classic and a ratings bonanza. Congratulations to the winners.
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