In the battle for Raleigh Christmas Parade ratings, one station’s persistence pays off

The Great Raleigh Christmas Parade Fight of 2017 is but a distant memory, with this weekend’s event going off smoothly and without public rebukes, lawyers or fired Santas.

But in the battle for ratings, WRAL’s persistence — broadcasting the parade for the second straight year despite not having the official broadcast rights, which belong to rival WTVD — seems to have paid off.

WRAL trailed WTVD/ABC11 in last year’s ratings, but over the course of the two-hour broadcast, it was often by less than one ratings point. One ratings point equals roughly 10,000 households.

This year, WRAL started off 2.5 points ahead of WTVD, with a 6 rating to WTVD’s 3.5, and ended with roughly the same margin, clocking 6.8 at noon to WTVD’s 4.2.

A tale of two parades

Last year, WTVD/ABC11 won the broadcast rights to air the parade, put on by the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association and Shop Local Raleigh, breaking WRAL’s 44-year contract streak. WRAL surprised nearly everyone by declaring that it would air the parade anyway. What followed were weeks of harsh words and accusations between the station and GRMA. Lawyers got involved and even Santa lost his job.

GRMA contended that WRAL’s insistence on broadcasting the parade without sponsorship – something within its legal rights – put the future of the parade, which relies on sponsorship dollars, in danger. WRAL’s president and chief operating officer Jimmy Goodmon essentially guaranteed at the time that Raleigh’s Christmas parade would not go away.

Adding insult to injury, WRAL, owned by Capitol Broadcasting Company, didn’t even get to have a float in the parade. But the station stuck to its decision.

Throughout the 2017 hullabaloo between GRMA and WRAL, WTVD kept pretty quiet. “I don’t want to get into a tit for tat,” ABC11 president and general manager Caroline Welch said at the time. “It’s a parade.”

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This year, ABC11 won a 3-year contract to be the official broadcast partner, and WRAL kept its promise to continue airing the parade anyway.

Both years, WTVD broadcast the parade from in front of its newly remodeled Fayetteville Street newsroom, while WRAL set up earlier on the route on Hillsborough Street. This year, WTVD put ABC News reporter and “Nightline” co-anchor Byron Pitts on its float. WRAL put Matt Iseman, the co-host of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” on its float (yes, they got their float back).

When this year’s parade ended, WRAL introduced its inaugural Winter Wonderland near the parade starting point at Saint Mary’s School on Hillsborough Street. The free festival had inflatables, snow-blowing, sledding and food trucks.

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A very popular parade

WRAL vice president and general manager Joel Davis is pleased with this year’s parade and said the festival turnout was “huge.”

“I think this reflects that people here appreciate how invested WRAL and Capitol Broadcasting are in the community,” he said. “And it also reflects the strength of our on-air team and how well liked they are.”

ABC11 research director Glenn Proto was impressed by the sheer number of people watching the parade on television — 133,000 households in 2017; 111,000 households in 2018. “Big numbers for a local parade,” he said.

GRMA executive director Jennifer Martin estimates another 70,000 people attended in person.

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Welch also emphasized the role of the parade in supporting local merchants.

“We were thrilled to be Shop Local Raleigh’s parade partner again,” Welch wrote in an email. “We hope our viewers enjoyed it as much as we did. And we hope they will remember to support Triangle merchants and shop local this holiday season!”

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