As expected, Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance at the ESPYS proved to be a significant ratings boost.
The ESPYS, appearing on ABC for the first time in its 23-year run, drew 7.7 million viewers, a 250% increase over last year’s audience (2.2 million) and also up dramatically over 2013 (2.5 million). Jenner’s speech after winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which aired in the final hour, was the most-watched time period of the night. ESPN said the show grew by 1.9 million viewers (6.6 million to 8.5 million) from the first hour to the final hour. The show won the night among all competition in primetime, beating its closest competition by 2.6 million total viewers. It was the most-watched and highest-rated ESPYS ever.
The top five highest-rated TV markets for the show were Kansas City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston.
Last week, the producers of the ESPYS spoke with SI.com about why Jenner was selected. “I think Caitlyn’s decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman and live as Caitlyn Jenner displayed enormous courage and self-acceptance,” said ESPYS co-executive producer Maura Mandt. “Bruce Jenner could have easily gone off into the sunset as this American hero and never have dealt with this publicly. Doing so took enormous courage. He was one of the greatest athletes of our time. That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport. One of the biggest platforms the Arthur Ashe Foundation has is educational, and I think in this choice we have the opportunity to educate people about this issue and hopefully change and possibly save some lives. I think that is why it was the right choice.”
Asked directly if the show being on ABC for the first time played a role in choosing someone as high-profile Jenner for the Ashe honor, Mandt and co-executive producer Connor Schell said “zero.” Mandt said the decision to move the show to ABC was a separate conversation that had been in motion prior to any decision about the Ashe winner.
“I have spent 20 years working on this show and I take it very seriously,” Mandt said. “It is very rare you get to tell a story that hopefully affects people and moves people and has meaning and makes a difference. At the same time if it attracts people from seeing it? We are not going to run away from that. Every person who has a cause needs a platform.”