Monday, October 11, 2021

TV Ratings: NFL Is Off To Good Start

Four weeks into the National Football League season, viewership is at its highest level in six years, a rise media executives attribute to competitive matchups and the return of spectators, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The more than 60 games played through Oct. 4—roughly a quarter of the season—drew an average of 17.3 million television and digital viewers, according to data from Nielsen and the league. That is up 17% compared with the same stretch of time last season.

League and sports-media executives said the sight of fans at games has given at-home TV viewers the feeling of a return to normalcy amid the pandemic. This season is also free of the distraction of last year’s U.S. presidential race, they said.

The rise in viewership comes after a sharp ratings drop last year, when Covid-19’s spread forced some games to be postponed and to be played in empty stadiums. Even before the pandemic, the league had uneven ratings performances in recent years. Factors weighing on viewership included the overall decline in traditional TV viewing as consumers cut pay-TV packages and the heavy exposure of NFL content after games started being played on Thursday nights. Some fans have said they were turned off when players made social or political statements.

Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, struck a note of caution about the early ratings. “While we’re up 17% through week four, it’s hard to believe we’ll sustain that,” Mr. Rolapp said. “We never get caught up in the week-to-week or year-to-year viewership.”

ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecast has seen a surge in viewers in its first four weeks, and the network also has been exploring new ways of attracting a broader audience. This season, it introduced an alternate Monday Night Football telecast on its ESPN2, co-hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning, the retired NFL quarterbacks and brothers.

The Mannings’ alternate show, which will take place 10 times this season, attracted 1.9 million viewers in its last installment in week three, according to ESPN. “We’re seeing the ultimate validation after only a couple of weeks. We’re fielding 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 telecasts that week averaged 14.9 million viewers, the most for that period since 2012. So far this season, Monday Night Football’s ratings are up 24% from last year, and up 26% from 2019.

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