Final ratings numbers for the NFL’s second week of 2020 are in, and the news is marginally better for the NFL across the board.
Initial ratings reports, which lacked numerous markets as well as out-of-home viewership totals, showed decreases in “Sunday Night Football” and other broadcast windows. But once final totals came in, declines abated and, in some cases, vanished entirely.
Thursday Night Football: Thursday’s Bengals-Browns game saw a minuscule viewership increase over 2019, from 6.64 million to 6.68 million despite competition from both the NBA and NHL playoffs. However, 2020’s total is a decrease from 2018’s 7.02 million. Also worth noting: 2019’s game was competing against a presidential primary debate.
Sunday (Fox): The early window on Fox, a singleheader in Week 2, saw viewership totals of 16.87 million, up 11 percent from 2019. Most viewers got 49ers-Jets, Washington-Cardinals or Falcons-Cowboys. The Sunday afternoon games faced competition from the U.S. Open, though likely very little given the lack of drama in Bryson DeChambeau’s six-shot victory.
Sunday (CBS): The Sunday early game, primarily Giants-Bears or Broncos-Steelers, saw precipitous declines, with a viewership of 9.75 million that was down 39 percent over 2019. The early window was the least-watched individual window on broadcast television since 2018’s Week 17, according to Sports Media Watch. The afternoon matchup, primarily Chiefs-Chargers, totaled 18.87 million viewers, the lowest Week 2 ranking in the timeframe since 2000 and the smallest audience since 2007. The afternoon window was down 19 percent from Week 2. On the good-news spin, though, the CBS afternoon window was the most-watched football segment of the week, and also television’s top-watched program for the week.
Sunday Night Football (NBC): The highly anticipated Patriots-Seahawks matchup Sunday night saw a slight 3 percent decrease in ratings but a tiny total viewership increase, from 17.64 million to 17.69 million. That total is still down significantly from 2018’s Giants-Cowboys game, which had a viewership total of 20.66 million. The Sunday night game also faced heavy competition from the primetime Emmys and a close Lakers-Nuggets Western Conference Finals game.
Monday Night Football (ABC/ESPN): ABC flooded the zone with Monday Night Football’s Saints-Raiders game, airing it on both broadcast and cable. The game saw a huge boost, up 32 percent in viewership from 11.80 million to 15.59 million, over last year’s Browns-Jets game. However, the wide availability of the game, on multiple platforms, certainly contributed to that total — as did a better matchup than, well, Browns-Jets.
So what are we to make of these ratings? Given that the vast majority of us are not using them to set ad rates for future broadcasts, there’s not a whole lot of definitive information to go on here, but we can start to make some informed guesses.
Critics of the NFL who claim that “politics” are forcing millions to tune out of NFL games may need to rethink their positions ... unless they wish to believe that fans disgusted with the NFL’s turn toward social justice tuned into the Thursday night game, out of the early CBS game, into the Fox game, out of the late CBS game, and then back into the Sunday and Monday night games.
Competition for eyeballs is likely the primary reason for all ratings fluctuation in sports right now; we’ve never had a period in sports history where all four major sports, plus soccer, tennis, golf and NASCAR, are all playing at once. The NFL’s hardcore fans continue to tune in, regardless of politics, while casual fans may find themselves drawn to other sports ... or, in some cases, away from the television altogether. (Some analysts have speculated that with much of the nation still under some form of quarantine lockdown, many Americans are spending the last few days of summer outdoors, and away from their TVs.)
Context also matters; regardless of declining ratings, the NFL is still the biggest draw on TV:
When analyzing NFL ratings, it's important to look at the numbers within the context of the overall TV landscape. For example, here's how the "new" broadcast series fared on the 1st night of the 2020-21 season:
LA's Finest 2.88M/0.5 demo
Filthy Rich 2.87M/0.4
— Anthony Crupi (@crupicrupicrupi) September 22, 2020
Ratings hiccups don’t appear to be deterring broadcast partners. A new Bloomberg report indicates that Fox is willing to spend up to $2 billion — double its current contract — to continue to broadcast the Sunday NFC package when its contract runs out after next year.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee, or contact him with tips and story ideas at email@example.com.
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