11 Fascinating ESPN Viewership Statistics for Diehard Fans

To regular people, these syllables won’t make sense. Rabid sports fans would recognize them from a mile away.

Few things are as iconic as ESPN SportsCenter’s theme song that debuted in 1989. It signals the coming of sports updates, exciting plays, funny moments, and more. People have been rushing home for years, hoping not to miss hearing it.

Sports are a great source of entertainment for many. ESPN is right in the middle of things. The fact that the SportsCenter tune has been an earworm for decades says a lot. These ESPN viewership statistics will add more insights.

Read on to learn more about your — and probably your dad’s — favorite sports channel.

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Highlights of the Article

Here’s a sneak peek of the most interesting ESPN viewership stats:

  • Almost half of Americans aged 30 to 49 watch ESPN on cable TV
  • ESPN led the other networks in daytime viewership for 18 to 49-year-olds by a wide margin in 2022
  • 74.28% of ESPN’s audience base online are males
  • ESPN+ has 24.9 million subscribers as of the first quarter of 2023
  • SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt averages 903,000 viewers in 2023, up by 45% from 2022
  • Women’s College Basketball audience grew by 45% in 2022
  •  An average of 311,000 viewers watched NBA Today’s weekday afternoon edition in 2022
  • 21.7 million people, on average, watched the College Football Playoff semis in 2022

ESPN Viewership Statistics Overview

espn viewership statistics

Not too long ago, you could only get ESPN through cable or satellite. Now, you can stream it via ESPN+, Sling TV Orange, YouTube TV, DirecTV, and many more.

You no longer have to wait until you get home to get your sports fix. You can keep track of your favorite teams or athletes anytime and anywhere. That is if you have your device with you and you’re connected. 

ESPN has evolved through the years. Still, it continues to be a trailblazer in serving sports fans. It was and still is “The Worldwide Leader in Sports.” 

How popular is the cable network, exactly? Let’s crunch the numbers with these viewership statistics.

We will start with the demographics of ESPN’s fan base and see what kind of people follow it. Next, we’ll look at how their viewing habits changed year after year. Finally, we will feature individual shows that stand out and connect with viewers.

Let’s dig in.

ESPN Viewership Demographic Statistics

To understand what makes ESPN successful, we should look at its fan base. 

Is it more appealing to the younger generation or a more mature audience? Does it transcend generations or genders? Knowing these things can help you keep up with trends.

Below are some statistics on the demography of ESPN’s loyal viewers. 

1. Almost half of Americans aged 30 to 49 watch ESPN on cable TV


In 2018, Statista asked 4,180 people which cable TV networks they had watched in the past month. The respondents were between 18 and 64 years old. They were segmented into three age groups.

The results show that 49.67% of those aged 30 to 49 watched ESPN. It was the highest penetration among the three age brackets. Next were the 50 to 64-year-olds, 41.29% of whom watched the sports network. Lastly, the 18 to 29-year-olds had a respondent share of 35.71%.   

Don’t read too much into these numbers yet. There are other ways that people can access the network aside from cable.

2. ESPN’s target demographic is 25 to 34-year-olds, based on website visits


Website traffic tells a different story than the previous Statista survey. Similarweb analyzed ESPN’s audience composition based on on-site visits. The age range was more inclusive, ranging from 18 to over 65. It was also more segmented, with six different age groups.

This time, the most active group was those aged 25 to 34. It accounted for 26.14% of all website visits. Here’s how it looks for the other age groups:

  • 35 to 44 years old – 19.30%
  • 18 to 24 years old – 17.90%
  • 45 to 54 years old – 15.91%
  • 55 to 64 years old – 12.76%
  • 65 and above – 7.99%

3. ESPN led the other networks in daytime viewership for 18 to 49-year-olds by a wide margin in 2022

(ESPN Press Room)

ESPN’s target demographic are adults aged 18 to 49. In the first quarter of 2022, the sports network’s daytime viewership for this group increased by 23%. ESPN beat its closest competitor by 74%.

Primetime viewership is even better for the leading cable network. Its audience for this time slot grew by 36%, doubling its advantage over the second placer.

4. 74.28% of ESPN’s audience base online are males

(Similarweb, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CNBC)

Based on site visits last March 2023, 74.28% of ESPN’s fans online are males. It covers all sources of traffic, including desktop and mobile. 

The disparity is consistent with other sources of information. 

In a joint study by the University of Southern California (USC) and Purdue, the difference is starker: 95% of ESPN’s total TV coverage and highlights focus on men’s sports.

TIDES, or the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, did a similar study in 2021. Theirs was more comprehensive, covering all sports media. They also got similar results, which ESPN published on its site:

  • 83.3% of all sports editors were males
  • 75.8% of assistant sports editors were males
  • 82.2% of the columnists were males
  • 85.6% of the reporters were males
  • 75.3% of the copy editors were males
  • 78.1% of the web specialists were males

Sponsorships for women’s professional sports did grow by 20% in 2022. Most notable is Ally Financial’s ad buy with ESPN. It was a one-year, multi-million-dollar deal, 90% of which was invested in women’s sports.

The discrepancy between male and female viewers will shrink over the next few years.

ESPN Viewership Statistic by Year

ESPN appeals to sports fans of all ages. It’s just a matter of matching the appropriate platform with the right demographic. Satellite and cable TV viewership are declining, but this goes for all networks — not just ESPN. ESPN+ is picking up the slack quite nicely.

There is still a disproportion gender-wise, with males dominating ESPN’s audience base. ESPN and the whole industry are working hard to bridge the gap.

Another interesting way to tackle viewership is year-to-year. It shows if there are changes in the sports fans’ viewing habits over time. You can use this information to anticipate new or improved offerings from ESPN.

Here are some interesting facts about the network’s viewership in the past few years:

5. ESPN primetime viewership dropped by 590,000 in September 2016 compared to the previous year

(Statista, Statista, Forbes)

American football reigns supreme among all popular US sports. In Statista’s 2022 survey, half of its respondents said they were huge National Football League fans. Only 20% stated that they watched NASCAR — on occasion.

That is why September is an important month for ESPN. It marks the opening of the NFL season (the weekend following Labor Day). 

A different survey from Statista shows that ESPN viewership in September 2015 was 3.26 million. It dropped to 2.67 million viewers in September 2016. It’s a glimpse of the new viewership landscape for cable TV.

In November 2021, eight million households cut the cord, leaving ESPN with 76 million pay TV subscribers. It’s alarming if you compare it to the 100.1 million households from ten years before.

6. In 2020, 70% of adults in the US heard about ESPN+ but did not subscribe

(eMarketer, Statista)

The Walt Disney Company launched ESPN+ on April 12, 2018. The streaming platform now has around 25 million subscribers in the US alone. Its growth rate is one of the fastest among today’s OTT streaming services

Things are looking up now for ESPN+, but it wasn’t this popular initially. In 2020, 13% of US adults hadn’t heard of it. Of those who knew about the streaming platform, 70% did not subscribe. Only 7% were current subscribers. The rest were either sharing an account or had stopped subscribing.

7. ESPN+ has 24.9 million subscribers as of the first quarter of 2023

(Statista, Variety, CNBC)

ESPN+ got one million subscribers within five months of its launch. Things were a bit slow the following year. Only 1.4 million people had subscribed to the service by quarter one of 2019 and 3.5 million by the year’s end.

As more people knew about ESPN+, it got more traction among paying fans. Their number swelled quarter after quarter. There were 24.9 million ESPN+ subscribers by the start of 2023.

This development puts Disney in a tricky situation. Cable TV viewership is going down, but providers are still making billions. OTT streaming is growing but hasn’t reached the level that they want. When will Disney let cable TV go and fully embrace the future?

As per CNBC, people in the know say the threshold is 50 million households. Once pay TV viewership falls below it, ESPN will switch to a direct-to-consumer business model. It could happen within the next five years.

ESPN Shows Statistics

SportsCenter, the first-ever ESPN show, aired on September 7, 1979. It remains relevant to today’s audience and has become a cultural touchstone that links generations. 

The network now has a long list of studio programs and other offerings. From college football to NBA Today, sports fans have many options. 

How’s the viewership of ESPN shows? Let’s find out with these stats.

8. SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt averages 903,000 viewers in 2023, up by 45% from 2022

(ESPN Press Room)

SportsCenter’s late-night edition is now one of the top ESPN shows by ratings. In 2023, it has an average viewership of 903,000 so far. Many of its audiences are from the younger demographic. 

SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt veers away from the usual recipe of ESPN’s flagship program. Van Pelt injects his signature wit and unassuming disposition, which resonates with viewers aged 18 to 49.

9. Women’s College Basketball audience grew by 45% in 2022

(ESPN Press Room)

The industry has taken steps to promote gender equality in sports. Its efforts are starting to bear fruit.

In Women’s Basketball’s 2021 season, the NCAA Tournament audience grew by 45%. The increase was 15% after the first two rounds.  

10 . An average of 311,000 viewers watched NBA Today’s weekday afternoon edition in 2022

(ESPN Press Room, ESPN Press Room)

The weekday afternoon edition of NBA Today saw an audience growth of 32% in 2022. It averaged 311,000 viewers and had a high of 544,000 for its February 10 episode.

It is a relatively new show, but is quickly becoming one of ESPN’s headliners. It is popular among female audiences, especially black females.

11. 21.7 million people on average watched the College Football Playoff semis in 2022


The 2022 Peach Bowl matchup between the Georgia Bulldogs and Ohio State Buckeyes had 22.1 million viewers on average. It was the most-watched match since the Bulldogs faced the Oklahoma Sooners in 2018.

The average number of domestic viewers for the 2022 College Football Playoff was 21.7 million.


Viewership statistics show that ESPN remains a big part of sports. Its presence on pay TV is slowly waning, but its OTT services are picking up. 

By adapting to the changing times, the network has managed to stay relevant. We can breathe a sigh of relief — there are more years of high-quality sports entertainment to look forward to.


Is ESPN the most-watched sports network?

Yes. When live sports resumed in 2021, ESPN led the way in primetime with an audience of 1.6 million. It increased by 11% from the previous year.

What is the most-followed sport in the world?

American football, baseball, and basketball dominate the US market. However, soccer is still the favorite sport globally, with a fan base of 3.5 billion.

What is the highest-paying sport in the US?

Basketball players have the highest salaries in the US and the world. The average salary in the NBA in 2023 is roughly $10.5 million. The average NFL player salary is $4.5 million.