The story of the 2019 NFL season is that ratings are up. The downside risk is that some of the best-known quarterbacks in the league are now out with injuries.
The first Sunday of the season saw Fox draw its highest ratings in three years for “America’s Game of the Week,” which is in the 4:25 p.m. window. The Dallas Cowboys’ 35-17 victory over the New York Giants drew 23.9 million viewers.
That was an increase of 2.5 percent from last year and the best performance for an opening weekend since 2016. Other games in that window included the San Francisco 49ers at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals hosting the Detroit Lions.
Fox’s early window, which is centered around regional coverage, drew 12.6 million that day, up slightly from last year and its best in that time window since 2016.
Week Two also saw an increase in ratings from last year, as CBS had a 9.9 rating for its single-game window, a 19 percent increase, while Fox's double-header averaged a 13.6 overnight rating.
It also saw two high-profile quarterbacks suffer serious injuries, as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger sustained an elbow wound and Drew Brees of the the New Orleans Saints tore ligaments in his thumb that can keep him out up to two months.
The Jets were without their young star quarterback, Sam Darnold, for their Monday Night Football contest against the Cleveland Browns due to a bout of mono, and he's likely to be out until the fifth game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. In the Jets’ 23-3 loss to Cleveland Monday night, the team also lost Trevor Siemian, a recognizable name from his time in Denver, to an ankle injury that will keep him out for the season.
In Week 1, the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of the league’s small-market teams, lost quarterback Nick Foles to a broken collarbone that could keep him out until mid-November. The Jags signed Foles, who led Philadelphia to a Super Bowl championship in Feburary 2018, to a four-year, $88-million contract in the offseason.
"The worry to drive 'ratings' for a period of weeks was a problem that was more a concern in past years,” Joe Favorito, a veteran sports media consultant and Columbia University professor, said of the injuries’ impact.
“The NFL is now a global experiential brand that fans engage with much more than just tuning in, and that is the beauty of elite professional sports today. It is not based on the value of one player or some players."
What could be affected more is fantasy football.
"Even that makes for intrigue on who's next," however, Favorito said. "Anyone who says the loss of those guys is devastating for the league as an overall business is looking back to the past, not to where the overall business is today."