Even the most genteel HBO executive may let out an exuberant "F**kin' A" as ratings come in for "Hard Knocks." The documentary-style look inside the New York Jets' training camp -- which received early attention for Coach Rex Ryan's slew of f-bombs -- has averaged 43% more viewers than a year ago.
Leading into Wednesday's fourth episode, the average for the initial three was 845,000 viewers. That compares with 592,000 last year, when the Cincinnati Bengals were featured in the series. Because of the show's young-male appeal, nearly 80% of viewers on average this summer are in the 18-to-49 demo.
"Hard Knocks" is averaging 663,000 18- to-49 year-olds since its Aug. 18 debut, which is 47% better than what HBO drew last year for the Bengals. The figures cover live-plus-same-day viewing and don't include subsequent airings of an episode, or consumption via VOD or online.
That's encouraging for HBO; even after viewership dropped for episode two with the Jets, it soared back last week -- partly due to anticipation that Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis might make an appearance (he didn't). Total viewership for week three (Aug. 25), came in at 853,000, only 2% below the first episode.
In the 18-to-49 demo, the third show had just a 3% drop-off from the premiere. Ratings for episode four should be available late Thursday.
This season, the annual behind-the-scenes journey inside a team's preparation for the season is on pace to post an average of 52% more 18-to-49 viewers than last summer.
While ratings in the demo can be used for guidance and internal metrics, HBO is less concerned about them, since it does not sell advertising. "Hard Knocks" is in its sixth season and is produced by NFL Films and HBO.
The show's increased interest this year could be attributed to as many factors as the number of f-bombs Coach Ryan dropped in the premiere (at least 8). In addition to the brash Ryan -- who 40 seconds into the premiere lamented a "f**ckin'" vacation with his in-laws -- the focus on a team in the large New York market is a plus.
The Jets also finished a game away from the Super Bowl last year, and have generated towering expectations for the coming season among their long-suffering fan base. And the team has done nothing to tamp that down, showing as much bravado as Mike Tyson during a weigh-in in his heyday.
Also, there's the high-profile holdout of Revis. Each week, as ludicrous as it may be, some fans hope he surreptitiously signs a new contract and HBO breaks the news on "Hard Knocks." Knowing Revis wouldn't appear last week, HBO Sports chief Ross Greenburg still stoked the narrative by declining to say one way or the other hours before the episode aired.
"Hard Knocks" draws much higher ratings than HBO's sports documentary series "Real Sports," in which the most recent original episode on Aug. 17 drew 386,000 viewers in live-plus-same-day figures.