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NFL ratings continue to suffer in comparison to 2019, but there is this: when a good game breaks out, people will tune in.
Monday night’s Baltimore-Cleveland game was an instant classic, a beauty that ranks among the best of the year, if not the decade. The game drew 12.42 million viewers, up 9 percent from last year’s Eagles-Giants game in the same time slot, according to Sports Media Watch.
That was the lone game that saw an uptick from 2019. Thursday night’s Rams-Patriots game drew 13.64 million viewers, a 24 percent decline off last year’s Bears-Cowboys game. Likewise, the Sunday afternoon slot (mostly New Orleans-Philadelphia, some Green Bay-Detroit) totaled 22.52 viewers, off 20 percent from the same period last year. (Given that last year’s game was Kansas City against a Patriots team that still featured Tom Brady, that decline isn’t a surprise.)
As the season continues, it remains clear there’s no single, easy explanation for the ratings decline. Each week features a game or two that’s an increase over the previous year, and each week features several games with declining ratings from 2019. If there was one overarching reason — dissatisfaction with perceptions of the NFL’s political stances, say — those increases, which occur regardless of network or timeslot, would not occur.
Instead, the ratings increases, such as they are, seem to be more dependent on matchups — marquee teams, marquee players, good games — than on any given timeslot or network. And, it remains worth noting, in an era of fractured attention and a galaxy of viewing options, the NFL remains far and away the television leader in drawing eyeballs.
Still, the ratings declines could have an impact down the line on the channels where games appear. Sports Business Journal reported earlier this week that the networks aren’t interested in showing “Thursday Night Football” given the simulcast that must take place, with half of the games airing on NFL Network and the Yahoo Sports app, among other outlets. As with every story this season, we’ll have to wait until 2021 to see if the ratings decline is an outlier or a trend.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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