18 Impressive ESPN Viewership Statistics to Know in 2024

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espn viewership statistics

The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) has been a leader in US sports coverage since 1979. Today it has multiple basic cable channels, the ESPN+ streaming service, and a deluge of web content.

These ESPN viewership statistics give a fascinating look at its rise and the current landscape of TV and streaming. Let’s jump right in!

Eye-opening ESPN viewership statistics

If you’re interested in how ESPN viewership demographics are sliced, these stats are worth checking out:

  • ESPN holds the record for the most-watched cable TV broadcasts in history.
  • An average of 1.9 million primetime viewers watched ESPN in 2022.
  • For 31 years ESPN has been the highest viewed channel among young men.
  • ESPN is the fifth most-watched channel on cable TV so far this year.
  • ESPN+ subscribers rose to 24.9 million in the last quarter.

General ESPN facts and stats you should know

These numbers give a general overview of the network’s structure and television reach.

1. The Walt Disney Company owns an 80% stake in ESPN Inc.

Source: [New York Times]

Disney has long diversified its portfolio. Now it includes everything from cruise liners to ABC News. The media giant swallowed up ESPN in 1996 and currently owns the majority stake. 

Hearst Communications holds the other 20%. It bought in before Disney in 1990 for a sum between $165-$175 million.

In turn, ESPN owns a 20% interest in The Sports Network (TSN) in Canada and its five sister networks.

2. ESPN has 27 television networks around the world.

Source: [ESPN Press Room]

ESPN viewership statistics worldwide are difficult to quantify. Still, its international rights reach fans in over 61 different countries thanks to standalone TV channels and network partnerships.

3. 76 million households have access to ESPN on cable.

Source: [Deadline]

As of November 2021, ESPN’s television coverage extends to around 76 million households across the US. That’s a decline of 24% compared to nearly ten years ago due to ‘cord cutting’.

Current ESPN viewership statistics

The latest data shows this network is still a force to be reckoned with in the entire cable TV landscape.

4. ESPN is the most-viewed cable sports network in America.

Source: [ESPN Press Room]

Overall, ESPN is the most-watched cable sports network. It also accounts for the largest share of total sports minutes broadcast.

Its sister channel ESPN2 is, ironically, the number 2 cable sports network among men aged 18-34.

5. ESPN is the fifth most-watched channel overall on cable TV so far this year.

Source: [US TVDB]

As of May 14, 2023, ESPN averaged a weekly audience of 2,890,000 people. So far this year, it peaked in the first week of January with an average viewership of 3 million. Furthermore, its monthly average for April was 1.489 million viewers.

6. The Conference semifinals of the NBA Playoffs drew over 8 million viewers.

Source: [US TVDB]

The most-watched ESPN programming so far in 2023 (as of May) is the NBA Playoffs: Conference Semifinals. It drew 8.64 million viewers

More people watched it than the finals, which had 7,655,000 viewers as of May 18, 2023.

7. ESPN market share dwarfs its closest competitor Fox Sports.

Source: [US TVDB]

ESPN’s natural rival Fox Sports does a fraction of its viewing figures on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). Still, it also has the disadvantage of launching decades later in 2013. 

For the period ending May 14, 2023, FS1 averaged just 226,000 viewers. It was the 40th most popular channel on TV. This means ESPN has nearly 13 times the number of viewers, currently.

8. ESPN averaged 1.9 million primetime viewers in 2022.

Source: [The Gist]

Many cable channels are seeing a decline in viewers due to streaming. ESPN is one of the few holding the audience’s attention and even growing. Its yearly primetime average rose 14% from 2021 to 2022.

Its secondary channel ESPN2 also saw an 8% increase in viewers in 2022.

ESPN viewership demographics

Overall viewership is one thing, but demographics are also important when it comes to age and gender. These stats reveal exactly who is watching.

9. For 31 years ESPN has been the highest-viewed channel among young men.

Source: [ESPN Press Room]

2022 marked the 31st year in a row that ESPN took the top spot for men aged 18-34 and 18-49. Perhaps more impressive, it’s also the 13th year among those age groups including women.

10. Half of men aged 30 to 49 say they watch ESPN.

Source: [Statista]

With a 31-year streak, it’s no surprise 49.67% of male respondents aged 30-49 said they watch ESPN. 35.71% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 41.29% of 50- to 64-year-olds said the same. 

11. Women’s college basketball viewership increased by 45% in 2022.

Source: [ESPN Press Room]

The popularity of female sports is on the rise. The data is clear with women’s college basketball on ESPN.

As a whole, it was up by nearly half compared to 2021. Meanwhile, the NCAA Tournament audience, specifically, was 15% higher than in 2021.

Historic ESPN viewership statistics

With over 40 years on the air, this network’s viewership has reached numerous milestones. Let’s have a look!

12. ESPN holds the record for the most-watched cable TV broadcasts in history.

Sources: [Nielsen via MentalFloss]

According to Nielsen, ESPN holds the highest viewership in cable TV history. 

On New Year’s Day 2015, 28.3 million viewers tuned into the college football playoffs between Ohio State and Alabama. Additionally, a further 28.2 million watched the Rose Bowl game between Oregon and Florida State.

The prior record was the 2011 BCS National Championship Game with 27.3 million viewers.

13. 1.4 million cable subscribers watched the first telecast of SportsCenter on ESPN.

Sources: [New York Times, ESPN]

The flagship show SportsCenter had many ups and downs, but its audience remains loyal. On September 7, 1979, the very first show drew 1.4 million viewers

So far in 2023, the program is averaging over 900,000. That’s a 45% increase over the same date range in 2022.

14. ESPN FC is the network’s lowest-viewed regularly scheduled show.

Source: [US TVDB]

Football might be one of America’s favorite pastimes but soccer still has a long way to go. The FC soccer roundup show is consistently the lowest rated in the United States.

For the week ending May 14, it drew an average audience of 151,000 viewers. That was the highest since December 18th, 2022, which drew just 77,000.

ESPN+ subscriber statistics 

Staying with the times, ESPN content is now available via an online streaming service. And according to these stats, it’s still successful despite growing competition.

15. Paid subscribers to ESPN+ increased by 42% year-over-year.

Source: [SP]

In the fourth quarter of 2022, the ESPN+ streaming service had 24.3 million paid subscribers. That marked a 42% increase year-over-year.

Additionally, this development was one of the few positives for Disney, which nearly doubled its overall operating losses.

16. ESPN+ subscribers rose to 24.9 million in the last quarter.

Source: [Front Office Sports]

ESPN+ grew even further in the first quarter of 2023, from 24.3 million to 24.9 million. This also resulted in a 14% increase in ‘monthly revenue per subscriber’ to $5.53.

Factoring in all Disney streaming properties, this helped revenue rise by 13%.

17. April 19, 2022, was the most-watched day on ESPN+ since its launch.

Source: [ESPN Press Room]

Thanks to the Masters golf tournament and UFC 273, ESPN+ had its highest viewing figures on April 19, 2022.  

18. An NFL game in London, England was the most-watched ESPN+ program.

Source: [ESPN Press Room]

When it comes to single events, the NFL showcase at Wembley Stadium in London was the most-watched content. The game which took place on October 30, 2022, saw the Denver Broncos beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 21-17.

Wrap up

These ESPN viewership statistics paint a fascinating picture of the network’s enduring reach. With millions of viewers still tuning in regularly, it remains a powerhouse in the world of sports broadcasting.


  1. New York Times
  2. New York Times 2
  3. ESPN Press Room
  4. Deadline
  5. ESPN Press Room 2
  7. US TVDB NBA Playoffs
  8. US TVDB FS1
  9. The Gist
  10. ESPN Press Room 2
  11. Statista
  12. ESPN Press Room 3
  13. Nielsen via MentalFloss
  14. New York Times 3
  15. ESPN Press Room 4
  17. SP
  18. Front Office Sports
  19. ESPN Press Room 2
  20. ESPN Press Room 2

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