NFL Sunday Night Ratings Power Through Weather Delays, PBJs

·5 min read

The NFL’s ratings resurgence appears durable enough to weather just about any setback thrown at it, so much so that a 62-minute rain delay during Sunday’s Bills-Chiefs game didn’t have the anticipated dampening effect on NBC’s deliveries.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the hour-plus added on to the Sunday Night Football halftime show may have taken a bite out of NBC’s overall ratings, but the long cool-down period didn’t sink the broadcast. Josh Allen and the Bills’ 38-20 win over Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs averaged 17.5 million TV viewers and a 9.6 household rating, which marked a 16% improvement compared to the year-ago Vikings-Seahawks game, a nail-biter that ended with Russell Wilson’s 34th career game-winning drive.

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That many viewers chose to stick with the game rather than try to find something else to watch was evident from a quick glance at Twitter, which in the aftermath of a Michele Tafoya report on the state of the locker-room sandwiches, became embroiled in a debate about the proper ratio of peanut butter to jelly on a PB&J. “A couple [players] have complained to me that there’s too much peanut butter on the sandwiches,” Tafoya said at about the midway point of the weather delay. “It’s, like, 70-30 with the jelly, so they’re not enjoying those as much.” (Naturally, the only sane response to any of this is to note that only history’s greatest monsters prefer chunky peanut butter to the smooth variety.)[Ed: not so.]

All told, the lengthy interruption in Sunday night’s action seems to have robbed NBC of some 2.5 million viewers, and yet the final deliveries were sufficiently high to preserve Sunday Night Football’s massive year-to-year ratings growth. Through the first six broadcasts, a slate that includes the opener on Thursday, Sept. 9, NBC’s NFL coverage is averaging 21 million linear-TV viewers and an 11.5 household rating, up 20% versus the analogous period in 2019 (17.5 million/9.7).

NBC’s primetime performance has been so strong that SNF threatens to topple the Sunday 4:20 p.m. ET national window as football’s dominant broadcast. The network currently enjoys bragging rights to the season’s two most-watched NFL outings; Tom Brady’s return to New England is likely to retain the top slot until the Cowboys serve up their annual Thanksgiving feast, while the Tampa-Dallas Kickoff Game is a reminder that you can’t schedule enough national windows for either team. The Bucs have factored in three of the season’s top NFL four broadcasts, while Jerry Jones’ charges were instrumental in drawing the second-, third- and sixth-largest audiences to date.

Brady & Co. are the NFL’s most popular TV attraction, averaging 24.7 million viewers and a 13.2 rating in their three national appearances. The Bucs are scheduled to appear in another six coast-to-coast broadcasts between now and the end of the season, a slate that includes tomorrow night’s visit to Philadelphia and a Dec. 12 showdown with the Bills on CBS that could very well serve as a dress rehearsal for Super Bowl LVI. Dallas, meanwhile, is the league’s No. 2 draw with an average turnout of 21.5 million viewers and an 11.4 rating over four games. The Cowboys are set to play in another seven national broadcasts.

Advertisers are chuffed by the Sunday night game’s demo deliveries, as NBC’s NFL package is now averaging 8.06 million adults 18-49. By way of comparison, the 54 non-sports shows on the primetime broadcast roster are scraping by with just 802,528 members of the under-50 set; in other words, SNF’s tally of TV’s most sought-after viewers is 10 times larger than everything else on the dial.

NBC’s demo deliveries are up 16% compared to the year-ago period, when SNF was drawing 6.94 million adults 18-49 per game. At this same juncture in the 2020 season, NBC had lost 19% of the target audience.

Perhaps even more significant is how NBC has been able to lure back a significant number of Millennials, a group which for the most part has shown very little interest in the trappings of traditional TV. Season-to-date, SNF is drawing some 3.15 million adults 18-34, which translates to a 13% hike versus last season’s 2.79 million. That’s certainly no mean feat, given the state of things. In the last 10 years, TV usage among the 18-34 crowd has plummeted by 72%.

The NFL’s network partners are encouraged by the gains they’ve been securing among the younger demos, who are valued in indirect proportion to their TV consumption. To advertisers, consumers in the 18-34 demo are notoriously difficult to reach, thanks to the predations of video games, smartphones, streaming video and a studied indifference to the old-fashioned lean-back pleasures of the idiot box. That more of these shifty youth seem to be working their way back to TV is a trend worth celebrating at the league level, as it suggests that there’s no hurry to demolish the legacy distribution model just yet.

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