LANE ONE: U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic Trials beat every show on television, but Sha’Carri Richardson (11.8 million video views) is the new U.S. star!

U.S. Olympic Trials women's 100 m champ Sha'Carri Richardson, one of the hottest women on YouTube! (Photo: Tim Healy for TrackTown USA)

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Two weeks of U.S. Olympic Team Trials concluded Sunday evening, with Simone Biles winning the All-Around title and the interest of television viewers nationwide, on NBC.

The final evening of gymnastics was the most-viewed show of the evening, drawing an average of 5.752 million views across three hours of competition and the naming of the U.S. team at the end. Viewership peaked at 6.6 million viewers during Biles’ floor exercise routine in the final rotation.

But Biles wasn’t the biggest star of the Trials. Not even close.

What’s true is that the women’s gymnastics coverage won all five of its hours on NBC against ABC, CBS and FOX, and track & field came on strong with more than half of its network hours drawing more than three million viewers. The final ratings averages for the four Trials sports programs showed (Nielsen ratings via SpoilerTV):

(1) 5.287 million viewers average for Gymnastics (5 hours)
(2) 3.183 million viewers average for Track & Field (8 hours)
(3) 2.713 million viewers average for Swimming (11 hours)
(4) 2.076 million viewers average for Diving (3 hours)

The final numbers showed even better viewership for track & field than the early reports; the top draws among the 27 hours of Trials television:

(1) 5.752 million viewers: Gymnastics on 27 June (Sunday)
(2) 4.590 million viewers: Gymnastics on 25 June (Friday)
(3) 3.972 million viewers: Track & Field on 21 June (Monday)
(4) 3.535 million viewers: Swimming on 20 June (Sunday)
(5) 3.526 million viewers: Track & Field on 20 June (Sunday)

The top diving show drew 2.446 million on 13 June, a Sunday. It’s worth noting that the top draws in track & field were for the sessions that included the men’s 100 m final on 21 June and the women’s 100 m final – with Sha’Carri Richardson – on 20 June.

However, there was a huge drop-off for events on NBC’s cable outlets vs. the over-the-air flagship:

(1) 573,500 viewers average for Track & Field (6 hours)
(2) 461,000 viewers for Gymnastics (1 hour)
(3) 287,250 viewers average for Swimming (8 hours)

(There was no audience information available for two hours of men’s gymnastics coverage on NBC’s Olympic Channel or the early-morning coverage of the men’s 10,000 m or women’s 5,000 m on the Olympic Channel.)

The track & field cable audience on NBCSN peaked at 842,000 viewers on 24 June and even the heat-delayed final night that began at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time drew 379,000 viewers, ranking no. 59 on the day.

Swimming’s top audiences on cable came on 17 June with 436,000 viewers and 19 June, with 424,000 viewers.

What do all these numbers tell us? Perhaps:

● There is latent interest in these Olympic-focused sports for events which are directly related to the Games – that is – they were important and meant something. That might be good news for the future, if those responsible can figure out how to capitalize on this in non-Olympic years.

● The postponed Tokyo Games could draw a very significant audience on NBC when it begins on 23 July. NBC’s average primetime audience in 2016 from the Rio Games averaged 25.4 million viewers; that will be hard to duplicate with today’s viewers spread out over even more cable channels and streaming services. But U.S. viewers will have live coverage of events available not just on NBC, but also NBCSN, NBC’s Olympic Channel, CNBC, USA Network, the Golf Channel, plus Telemundo and Universo in Spanish and streaming at and on the Peacock subscription service.

There are even more numbers to contemplate. founder George Perry collected data on the track & field video clips posted and viewed on NBC Sports’ YouTube channel, so let’s go a step further and check out all 127 clips posted from the Trials. There were 12 that got more than one million views as of Wednesday evening (30th):

7,924,697: “Sha’Carri Richardson, now America’s fastest woman, scorches her Olympic Trials final”

2,495,640: “Simone Biles nails double double dismount, wows with Trials Day 1 beam routine”

2,154,306: “14 year old Joshua Hedberg makes Olympic trials finals with terrific performance”

2,050,119: “Simone Biles COMMANDS U.S. Olympic Trials on Day 1 with dominating performance”

1,936,120: “A Usain Bolt record falls as high schooler Knighton beats Noah Lyles AGAIN in 200m trials semi”

1,606,745: “DeAnna Price demolishes U.S. hammer record to make Tokyo team”

1,457,342: “Sha’Carri Richardson runs away with 100m semifinal at Olympic Trials”

1,439,994: “Sha’Carri Richardson makes a STATEMENT with dominant 100m heat at trials”

1,200,513: “Noah Lyles posts world’s fastest 200m of 2021, clinches first Olympic spot”

1,136,587: “Teenager Hailey Hernandez locks up surprise Olympic spot”

1,078,981: “51.90!! Sydney McLaughlin vs. Dalilah Muhammad epic results in ANOTHER world record”

1,010,422: “Sha’Carri Richardson’s unforgettable, show-stopping 100m win at Olympic trials”

Richardson got four of the top 12 with a combined 11,832,455 views (and counting!). Biles had two million-plus clips and was in five clips in all with a combined 5,955,184 views.

Of the clips with more than a million views, eight were from track & field, and two each from gymnastics and diving. The top swimming clip wasn’t a winning performance from superstars Caeleb Dressel or Katie Ledecky, or even Simone Manuel’s emotional win in the 50 m Freestyle (495,227 views). Instead, it was the 948,787 views of “13 year old Kayla Han’s INCREDIBLE comeback win at US Swimming Trials.” This was from Wave I, the qualifying meet for the actual Olympic Trials and showed Han winning the B-Final of the women’s 400 m Medley and setting a national age-group record with a sensational last 50 m swim.

Ryan Crouser’s world record in the men’s shot put got 916,548 views for 16th place, after a Trayvon Bromell win in a 100 m heat (982,086), Han’s comeback, and the women’s 400 m final, won by Quanera Hayes with Allyson Felix second (936,033).

Of the 127 clips, NBC posted 53 from track & field, 41 from swimming, 18 from gymnastics and 14 from diving.

Richardson, with her flowing colored hair – orange at the Trials, blue earlier in the season – is set to be the breakout U.S. star of the Games, based on the video viewing numbers, which continue to climb. She is the U.S.’s only medal contender in the women’s 100 m against Jamaican stars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah and Nigerian Blessing Okagbare. And she has promised to “represent my people” at the Games, although exactly what this means isn’t clear.

These were two good weeks of viewing for Olympic-sport fans, who will be joined by many more for the Games. And these are good times for NBC, which is reporting ad sales right at its highest level ever for an Olympic Games. But it might be the best of times for Biles and Richardson, the stars of the U.S. Trials.

Rich Perelman

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