Tuesday, January 12, 2021

TV Ratings: Regular Season NFL Numbers Drop

Regular-season ratings for NFL games declined this season following two straight years of increases. But in a year that saw the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and a presidential election, the 7% decrease isn’t as bad as the league and its broadcast partners feared before the season began.

Games averaged 15.6 million television and digital viewers, according to The Associated Press citing data from the league and Nielsen. The league averaged 16.5 million regular-season viewers last season after posting 5% gains in both 2018 and ’19.

Overall, the continued ratings strength of the NFL — even with most games played in empty or mostly empty stadiums — underscores the financial underpinnings of the league’s decision to play a full season amid a pandemic in which more than 21.5 million Americans have been infected. The networks pay a combined $5.86 billion per season for the rights to broadcast NFL games, and they are rewarded with huge audiences and revenue from advertisers eager to reach viewers.

It was the third straight election year in which ratings have gone down.

➤NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” finished as prime time’s top show for the 10th straight year, but the 17.4 million average was down 15% from last season. The Sunday night games were also outdrawn by the late-afternoon kickoffs on Fox and CBS.

➤Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” averaged 14.1 million, which is a 6% decline. ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” was off 3%, averaging 12.2 million.

Both packages ended the season on high notes. The Christmas game between Minnesota and New Orleans attracted 20.1 million viewers on Fox, making it the most watched Christmas Day program since 2016.

➤“Monday Night Football” had weekly increases during its final six games. Two December games were simulcast on ABC.

➤Fox ended up averaging 18.1 million for its Sunday games. That’s down 6% but marks the first time since 2009 the afternoon games have outdrawn “Sunday Night Football.”  The 23.2 million average for the “America’s Game of the Week” late-afternoon game during doubleheader weeks makes it television’s most-watched package for the 12th consecutive season.

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