NFL television ratings have been a popular topic ever since the season began a few weeks ago as data has shown numbers dropping overall. However, it is not entirely clear if the trend will continue its downward projection, or rebound as the season continues.
The season started with a huge drop in viewership, but numbers have been inconsistent, with some game slots increasing as others decreased. Furthermore, the season has mirrored previous election years. Likewise, following up to the 2016 presidential election, the NFL saw a decrease in its ratings.
That said, it is worth highlighting that the NFL continues to beat out all other broadcasts on days that their games air. The league continues to draw a large audience, and it even outdrew the Emmys recently.
Yet, it’s clear that a sizable portion of NFL fans who once watched the league regularly are spending Sundays elsewhere. It will likely take most of the regular season, and a larger pool of data, to truly pinpoint the reasons for the NFL’s decline in ratings.
Here is a week-by-week comparison of the NFL’s TV ratings through the first quarter of the regular season.
Week 1: Season Opens to Mixed NFL Ratings
The first week of the NFL season kicked off to mixed ratings. The initial television ratings numbers varied and were highlighted by a massive audience for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss against the New Orleans Saints. The NFC South matchup was likely boosted by the quarterback duel between new Bucs passer Tom Brady and Drew Brees of the Saints – two future NFL Hall of Famers.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the broadcast drew an average audience of 25.85 million. That equaled a seven percent increase from last season’s game in the same slot, which averaged 24.22 million viewers. FOX reported the game was the most-watched program of any kind since Super Bowl LIV in February. Additionally, FOX also said it was the network’s most-watched Week 1 NFL game since 2016.
In contrast, NBC’s primetime “Sunday Night Football” game significantly underperformed. The Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams matchup had an average audience of 18.94 million. That equaled a 15 percent drop from last season’s same Week 1 slot between the Pittsburgh and New England.
The Cowboys-Rams ratings represented the lowest viewership for a SNF opener since 2008, which was also an election year.
CBS also suffered a drop in ratings from last season. The network’s regional single header games drew an average of 13.59 million viewers – a 12 percent drop.