The NFL's back, and so are quite a few lapsed fans, at least according to one ratings metric. Whether because of the pandemic, the presidential election, social justice messaging or other entertainment options, 2020 took a toll on the NFL's numbers. But initial returns from 2021 indicate that the slide has stopped ... and, in some cases, turned back upward.
Thursday Night Football (Tampa Bay-Dallas)
Final numbers for the first game of the season showed a significant uptick over 2020. The rating (the percentage of television sets tuned to the game) came in at 13.4, a 19 percent increase over 2020's Texans-Chiefs game. A per-minute average of 24.81 million people watched the game, a 21 percent increase over 2020. Both of those are substantial increases, especially in the highly fractured world of current television.
Early Sunday games
Final numbers for Sunday and Monday's games will arrive later in the week and will likely add to existing totals. The early games of Sunday's doubleheader were a mixed-to-down bag for broadcasters. CBS ran multiple games out of the nine-game early slot, and averaged a 7.5 rating (up 1 percent over 2020) and 13.93 million average viewers (up 3 percent). Fox showed the less-than-inspiring matchup of Philadelphia vs. Atlanta to 50 percent of the country, and 50 percent of the country had less interest than in 2020. Fox averaged a rating of 6.0 and 11.18 million viewers, both down 17 percent from the prior year's Green Bay-Minnesota game.
Late Sunday games
Sunday's late games included several marquee franchises: Kansas City, New England, New Orleans and Green Bay. The combined ratings on both Fox and CBS were a huge improvement over last year's Fox telecast, which was an unopposed showing of Tampa Bay-New Orleans. Combined, the Fox and CBS games had an 18.0 rating and 35.78 million average per-minute viewers, a number that far exceeded the Brees-Brady Bowl from 2020, which had a 13.2 rating and 25.85 million viewers.
Sunday Night Football
NBC's Sunday Night Football matchup, Chicago at the Los Angeles Rams, lacked the team star power of last year's Cowboys-Rams game, and initial results trended a bit lower than 2020, with a rating of 9.6 and an audience per-minute average of 17.64 million, both 7 percent off last year.
Monday Night Football
Numbers for Monday Night Football have not yet been released.
This article will be updated as more accurate data becomes available.
[Sources: Sports Media Watch, broadcast/cable networks]
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.