When It Comes to TV Ratings, NFL Football Remains King

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

Nothing beats football.

When it comes to TV, football remains king.

Check out these numbers. Sunday’s 1 p.m. Eastern game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals averaged 17.38 million viewers. That many haven’t watched CBS’s early-window Week 1 game since the NFL returned to the network in 1998.

Over on Fox, an average of 18.54 million viewers watched the Green Bay Packer and Minnesota Vikings in the late afternoon slot. That’s a 12% increase over a year ago.

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is routinely the most watched program on TV every year. On Sunday, the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Bucs took on America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, and even though the game was a dog (the Bucs won 19-3), it averaged 25.1 million viewers. That’s the best opening week for “SNF” since 2015.

But here’s the real nitty gritty: Of the top 10 most-watched shows over the past week, nine were either NFL games or NFL pregame or postgame shows, according to Nielsen. The only non-NFL show was at No. 8 — “60 Minutes,” which had the NFL as a lead-in.

The Athletic’s Bill Shea wrote, “What does it all mean? The NFL numbers continue to be incredible in light of the continued roiled state of the TV industry, which is dealing with overall viewership declines as tens of millions of U.S. homes drop cable in favor of streaming or even nothing at all. The pandemic accelerated some of the industry trends, yet the NFL remains one of the lesser-affected TV properties.”

The numbers above are straight over-the-air broadcast numbers. Viewership and interest in the NFL are much, much higher when you factor in the NFL’s “Red Zone” channel — which, for seven hours, constantly shifts from one game to another and isn’t measured by Nielsen.

Shea wrote, “… the NFL’s stranglehold on American TV is astounding.”

Meanwhile, ESPN finally started getting a return on its huge investment for “Monday Night Football.” Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who were lured away from Fox Sports for a combined $165 million over the next five years, called their first regular season game for ESPN on Monday night. It turned out to be a decent game with a weird finish as the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos and former Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Did it feel like a big game with two of the best announcers in the business? Actually, yeah it did.

The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch agreed, writing, “Did it feel bigger? I think it did, but much of that was my own anticipation of Buck and Aikman moving to ESPN.”

The ratings for the game were huge. ESPN reported that 19.85 million tuned in to the main broadcast, making it the most-watched “Monday Night Football” game since 2009 and the third-most watched in the ESPN era, which goes back to 2006 and spans more than 270 games.

In addition, the ManningCast on ESPN2 featuring former QB brothers Peyton and Eli Manning also had a solid number of 1.5 million viewers.

As the year goes along, it will be interesting to see if the Buck-Aikman booth will take viewers away from the Mannings. My theory is that if your favorite team is playing on “Monday Night Football,” you might be more inclined to watch the main broadcast. But if your team is not in the game, you might be more willing to switch over to the Mannings.

To be clear, the main broadcast has far superior TV numbers. Last year’s ManningCast drew an average of 1.58 million viewers per game. The main “MNF” broadcast averaged 14.18 million viewers over 19 regular-season games.

Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina had a nice get, talking to Buck for a Q&A after Monday’s broadcast. Buck told Traina, “​​It wasn’t like any other broadcast and it wasn’t like any other night. I was really excited at my ripe young age of 53, but I felt in some ways like I was 24 or 25 doing Buccaneers and Bears on opening day in 1994. There’s that newness. It’s like starting a new school. But on the other hand, I never felt nervous.”

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