NFL Ratings Are Up 17%, Boosted by Fans Back in Stands and Close Games

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Games have attracted an average of 17.3 million viewers in the first four weeks of this season

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League and sports-media officials said the sight of fans at games has given home TV viewers a sense of a return to normalcy amid the pandemic. He added that this season is also free from last year’s US presidential race.

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Interest in the games has also been fueled by competitive matchups involving top players such as veteran Tom Brady and young superstars Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said, “There are a lot of story lines that people find fascinating.”

The surge in viewership follows a sharp ratings drop last year, when the spread of Covid-19 forced some games to be postponed and played in empty stadiums. Even before the pandemic, the league had an uneven ratings performance in recent years. Factors impacting viewership include an overall decline in traditional TV viewing as consumers cut back on pay-TV packages and the heavy exposure of NFL content after games began on Thursday night. Some fans have said that players were turned off when they made social or political statements.

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Despite such odds, the NFL’s major media partners bet big on football’s continued popularity earlier this year. Comcast of the corporation

NBC Universal, ViacomCBS Inc.,

Walt Disney Co.

ESPN, Fox of the corporation

Fox Sports, and Amazon.com Inc.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, each signed long-term deal is worth more than $100 billion.

“The NFL agreement will prove to be some of the best commitments these networks have ever made,” said sports media consultant Ed Desser. “It may be a big bet, but it’s the safest bet.”

Brian Rollep, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, cautioned about the initial ratings. “While we are up 17% in the fourth week, it is hard to believe that we will keep this up,” Mr Rollep said. “We never get bogged down in viewership week-to-week or year-to-year.”

The network said that NBC’s Sunday night broadcast of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ narrow victory over the New England Patriots attracted an average of about 28.5 million viewers across TV and digital platforms, making it the most-watched Sunday Night Football since 2012. The game is done. The game had a compelling story: Tampa Bay quarterback Mr Brady returned to his former home, where he had won six Super Bowl titles.

The game also came to the wire, with the Buccaneers registering a 19-17 win over the Patriots.

NBC Sports president Pete Bevacqua said the presence of fans in stadiums was clearly having an impact. “I think athletes feed into it,” he said.

According to league statistics, 15 games have been played so far this season, either fixed in the last minute of a regulation game or in overtime, the most of week four in NFL history. Executives are of the view that these nail-biters retain viewership longer, thereby increasing the average viewership of the telecast.

“Close sports have been a staple,” said Michael Mulvihill, head of strategy and analytics at Fox Sports, “including the highest-profile prime-time competitions.” “We are seeing a growth among audiences both young and old.”

ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast has seen a surge in viewership in its first four weeks, and the network is also exploring new ways to attract a wider audience. This season, it began an alternate Monday Night Football broadcast on its ESPN 2 co-hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning, retired NFL quarterbacks and brothers.

According to ESPN, Mannings’ alternate show, which will take place 10 times this season, drew 1.9 million viewers in the third week to its final installment. “We are only seeing final verification after a couple of weeks. We are getting more calls from high-profile people asking to be guests on the Mannings show,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of programming and original content.

ESPN’s broadcasts that week averaged 14.9 million viewers, the highest for that period since 2012. So far this season, Monday Night Football’s ratings are up 20% from last year and 22% from 2019.

CBS said its football broadcast averaged 17.9 million viewers during the first four weeks, up 22% from last year and the highest level since 2014. Fox Sports is the exception: its viewership is down 10% from the same point last season. , mainly due to a one-sided game in the first week—the New Orleans Saints’ 38-3 win over veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers—that quickly lost fans’ interest, according to a person familiar with the network’s ratings.

Lillian Rizzo at [email protected]

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