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The first live sports events on network TV in more than two months delivered strong ratings Sunday.
Fox’s telecast of a NASCAR race in Darlington, South Carolina, delivered 6.32 million viewers, a 38 percent jump over the previous race on March 8. Like other major pro sports leagues, NASCAR shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
NBC also brought back live sports Sunday with a golf event, TaylorMade Driving Relief. The four-man skins match, featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff, drew 2.35 million viewers across NBC, NBC Sports Network, Golf Channel and digital platforms.
The two events were the first live sports telecasts on a broadcast network since March (ESPN has aired UFC events in recent weeks, and Professional Bull Riders returned in late April with an event on CBS Sports Network).
Both of Sunday’s events were restricted to only participants and support teams and a limited television crew, with no fans in attendance. Announcers called the action from remote locations.
Aside from the season-opening Daytona 500, Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race was the most-watched on any network since March 2017. The circuit’s four previous races this season averaged 5.55 million viewers on Fox, led by the 7.33 million for a rain-delayed Daytona 500.
During the two months between live races, NASCAR and Fox Sports found some success with virtual races, averaging around 1 million viewers for a series of iRacing events featuring Cup series drivers — but those numbers paled in comparison to Sunday’s live event.
NBC’s golf coverage, meanwhile, was on par with PGA Tour final-round averages on CBS and NBC in the second quarter of 2019.
The handful of sports-related events that have aired recently have drawn sizable audiences. The NFL Draft in April set an all-time viewer record, and ESPN’s Michael Jordan docuseries The Last Dance has averaged better than 5 million same-day viewers per episode ahead of Sunday’s finale.
May 18, 4 p.m. Updated with ratings figures for NBC’s golf coverage.
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