If the NFL figured that all the offseason drama would vanish once there were games to watch, it can’t be pleased with its opening-night ratings.
The Nielsen rating for the Kansas City Chiefs’ upset win over the New England Patriots was a 14.6 according to Variety and other outlets. In a vacuum that’s a great rating, but it’s far down from last year’s 16.5 for the Denver Broncos-Carolina Panthers opener. The year before that, the opening game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Patriots drew a 17.7.
A 14.6 rating is still a monster number. To put it in perspective, Game 5 of the NBA Finals last season got a 16 rating, and that was the biggest rating for an NBA Finals game since 1998. For the NFL to have a regular-season game not be too far off the largest rating for an NBA game in 19 years isn’t a cause for panic. But the NFL doesn’t want to give back viewers, and having its worst opening game ratings since 2009 isn’t good news.
What are the reasons? Many will point to the NFL protests, but that could go both ways. Perhaps some turned off the NFL because of national anthem protests, but it’s just as logical to believe some turned off the NFL because they believe unsigned Colin Kaepernick is getting a raw deal. Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey affecting two well-populated areas in the past week or so probably didn’t help. A lot of people tuned into news coverage of Hurricane Irma as well. And perhaps people just figured the Patriots would win in a landslide (and that was surely wrong).
A lot of people did watch on Thursday night, and those who turned on saw a fascinating performance by the Chiefs. It just wasn’t as big of an audience as usual, which means another season of examining NFL ratings under a harsh light.
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