The Washington Times - May 11, 2009, 03:45PM

Ratings numbers for sporting events keep trickling in, and it seems that more Americans are watching sports on TV than ever before.

The NHL Playoffs, powered by some very compelling series, are up by nearly 30 percent on Versus.

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The NBA Playoffs, hoisted by the ridiculous Celtics-Bulls series, had the highest-rated first round in cable television history.

The Kentucky Derby was the most-watched in 20 years.

And the final round of the Players Championship on NBC saw its highest ratings in 5 years, even though Tiger wasn’t in the final pairing. (CORRECTION: He was in the final pairing but faded to eighth.)

It’s impossible to know why this is happening, except that perhaps the economy has kept people from traveling and more people are staying home. And, there’s always the theory that when times are tough, sports provides a nice diversion. They are comfort-food, so to speak.

There is concern, however, on the NASCAR front, where viewership on Fox has fallen nearly 11 percent from 2008. The always-on-the-ball Sports Business Journal weighed in on that issue today. Theories abound as to why NASCAR has seen such a drop-off. Most experts believe NASCAR was due for a drop after years of explosive growth. And it could be that the league has been a bit snake-bitten by a rainy Daytona 500 and mediocre performances from Dale Earnhardt Jr., the league’s most popular driver.

From NASCAR Media Group President Paul Brooks:

“We’ve been challenged in this area by story lines,” Brooks said. “In professional sports, the story lines drive that momentum. Whether it’s coming out of the gate with a rain-shortened Daytona 500 or other challenges, if we can catch a few breaks with story lines and the racing we’re starting to see, it can be a momentum changer and booster.”