Tennis Television Ratings Tumble

97938302 Tennis Television Ratings TumbleSomeone order up a Roger-Rafa and Sharapova-Venus final. CBS needs it!

I went through CBS Media Guide last night, and there are three pages dedicated to the ratings of men’s and women’s Grand Slam finals over the last few decades and–yowza–they have taken a steep decline, particularly in the last year or two.

Let’s start with the U.S. Open. For the last two years, thanks to rain, the men’s finals have been played on late Monday afternoon (the Judge Judy slot) and both of them have had the worst ratings of any Open men’s final since the records start in 1978. Last year’s women’s final–which was thrown on ESPN2 on a Sunday night instead of its usual spot on CBS on Saturday night due to the rain–was also the worst one ever recorded.

It’s not just the Open, either. At Wimbledon, Rafa Nadal-Tomas Berdych’s final this year scored a 1.6 rating, the lowest rated men’s final on NBC since 1988 (in the CBS media guide, the Wimbledon ratings only go back that far). The women’s final of Serena v. Vera Zvonareva scored a 1.6 as well, which is the women’s lowest Wimbledon final in the last 23 years.

What finals performed great, and what did poorly? Let’s go through the stats! (The number next to each match is Nielsen’s “rating,” which is the percentage of televisions around the country that tuned in for tennis).

U.S. OPEN MEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED:

1. 1980, John McEnroe d. Bjorn Borg, 11.0

2. 1982, Jimmy Connors d. Ivan Lendl, 9.9

3. 1983, Jimmy Connors d. Ivan Lendl, 9.5

OK, enough with the early 80s! We get it, it was a glory age. What about in the last, say, 15 years? OK, coming right up! Since 1995…

U.S. OPEN MEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED SINCE 1995:

1. 1999, Andre Agassi d. Todd Martin, 6.3

2. 2002, Pete Sampras d. Andre Agassi, 6.2

3. 1996, Pete Sampras d. Michael Chang, 6.1

What conclusions do we draw from this? Obviously we prefer Americans! In fact, in the era of Federer’s Dominance, the best rated men’s matches have featured Roger Federer v. Andre Agassi (4.8 in 2005) and Federer v. Roddick (4.1 in 2006).

What are the three lowest ever?

U.S. OPEN MEN’S FINALS, LOWEST RATED:

1. 2008, Roger Federer d. Andy Murray, 1.7

2. 2009, Juan Martin del Potro d. Roger Federer, 2.3

3. 2004, Roger Federer d. Lleyton Hewitt, 2.5

As we explained before, two of those are easily explained by the Monday final.

Let’s move over to the ladies. Also, it’s worth nothing that the women moved from Saturday afternoon finals to Saturday night finals in 2001. Let’s look at the best rated:

U.S. OPEN WOMEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED:

1. 1981, Tracy Austin d. Martina Navratilova, 7.7

2. 1985, Hana Mandlíková d. Martina Navratilova, 7.3

3. 1984, Martina Navratilova d. Chris Evert, 7.1

Enough with the 80s! Let’s take a look at it since 1995.

U.S. OPEN WOMEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED SINCE 1995:

1. 2001, Venus Williams d. Serena Williams, 6.8

2. 1999, Serena Williams d. Martina Hingis, 6.3

3. 1995, Steffi Graf d. Monica Seles, 5.2

And the worst?

U.S. OPEN WOMEN’S FINALS, LOWEST RATED:

1. 2009, Kim Clijsters d. Caroline Wozniacki, 1.1

2. 2007, Justine Henin d. Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2.1

3. 2004, Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Elena Dementieva, 2.3

Lesson: CBS wants nothing to do with Kuznetsova!

Let’s check out the other tournaments. First of all, Wimbledon’s ratings are way better than the French Open. This proves that NBC did a beautiful job of marketing “Breakfast at Wimbledon.” But, of course, who doesn’t prefer watching tennis on a beautiful grass court versus clay (where it’s often difficult to see the ball).

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, ratings are only available starting in 1988 in the CBS Media Guide:

WIMBLEDON MEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED (SINCE 1988)

1. 1992, Andre Agassi d. Goran Ivanisevic, 5.6

2. 1989, Boris Becker d. Stefan Edberg, 5.2

3. 1999, Pete Sampras d. Andre Agassi, 5.0

Same as before: If you’ve got Americans, you’re gonna do well. Federer’s final against Roddick last year did well (3.8) and the legendary 2008 final against Rafael Nadal also scored highly (3.5). But what hasn’t?

WIMBLEDON MEN’S FINALS, LOWEST RATED (SINCE 1988):

1. 2010, Rafael Nadal d. Tomas Berdych, 1.6

2. 2005, Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick, 2.1

3. 2003, Roger Federer d. Mark Philippoussis, 2.2

WIMBLEDON WOMEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED SINCE 1988:

1. 1992, Steffi Graf d. Monica Seles, 5.3

2. 1989, Steffi Graf d. Martina Navratilova, 4.5

3. 1988, Steffi Graf d. Martina Navratilova, 4.4

Fair enough. Over the last decade the three finals that did best were in 2000 (Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport with a 3.7), 2005 (Venus d. Davenport again with a 3.4) and 2002 (Serena d. Venus with a 3.4).

WIMBLEDON WOMEN’S FINALS, LOWEST RATED SINCE 1988:

1. 2010, Serena Williams d. Vera Zvonareva, 1.6

2. 2006, Amélie Mauresmo d. Justine Henin, 2.0

3. 2007, Venus Willias d. Marion Bartoli, 2.2

I’d say if we got a Roger-Rafa final this year, CBS would be in good shape. Yes, Roger has been involved in every lowest rated U.S. Open match ever, and Rafa played in the lowest rated Wimbledon final ever. But I have a feeling that since these two guys haven’t played in New York together and the storyline is a great one–Roger tries to win one back here and Rafa tries to win his first here–CBS can market the hell out of it and after the early afternoon NFL games are over next Sunday, people will keep their TVs on to watch those two slug it out. If they somehow can get Venus and Sharapova for Saturday night, watch out Graf v. Seles. We might have a new no. 3 for the highest rated matches since 1995.