The NFL had its best regular-season ratings in six years because to an extra week of games, close finishes, and not being in an election year.
On average, 17.1 million people watched the 272 regular-season games on television and online. This is a 10% rise over 2020 and the highest average in the league since 2015.
The most significant boost came from ESPN’s Monday Night Football package, which experienced a 16 percent rise in viewers over previous year, averaging 14.18 million. It’s the network’s greatest regular-season audience since 2010, and the third best since the package’s transition from ABC to cable in 2006.
With empty stadiums creating an odd viewing dynamic and many people’s viewing habits altering, it was projected that the NFL’s overall broadcast audience would grow once the 2020 season was played in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic. During the first half of that season, many people were watching cable news stations because it was the middle of a presidential campaign.
This was also the league’s debut season with 17 regular-season games. There were few blowouts despite the extra games. According to the league, 64 percent of all games were decided by a single point in the fourth quarter this season.
According to Nielsen, NFL games rated in the top 16 and accounted for 91 of the top 100 telecasts on television during the season. Five of the top ten most-watched games featured the Dallas Cowboys, including the Week 12 Thanksgiving Day match against the Las Vegas Raiders, which drew 40.8 million people. That was the most-watched regular-season game on any network in 31 years, and only the second since 1988 to average at least 40 million viewers.
“Monday Night Football” on ESPN averaged 14.18 million viewers. It’s the network’s greatest regular-season audience since 2010, and the third best since the package’s transition from ABC to cable in 2006. The nine alternate broadcasts of “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli” averaged 1.6 million viewers, with the highest being 1.96 million for the Week 8 game between the New York Giants and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The “ManningsCast” will be back for the Arizona Cardinals’ wild-card game against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday.
The Fox, NFL Network, and Amazon Prime “Thursday Night Football” package was up 16 percent from previous season, followed by NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” at 11 percent.
With 19.3 million viewers, “Sunday Night Football” is on track to become prime time’s most-watched show for the 11th straight season. The top two games on NBC were both in Tampa Bay, including Tom Brady’s homecoming to New England in Week 4. (27.2 million).
The 18.09 million average was the highest since 2015. CBS was up 9% from previous season. During its ten national game windows, it averaged 21.59 million viewers.
The Sunday games on Fox grew by 2%, averaging 18.57 million viewers, but they still had five of the top ten most-watched games. With a 28.7 million average, the Cowboys’ game against Kansas City led the way in Week 11.
The Fox NFL Network and Amazon Prime Video “Thursday Night Football” tri-cast averaged 16.4 million viewers in its final season. The largest game in that package, by coincidence, wasn’t on Thursday night but on Christmas Day, with 28.6 million viewers tuning in to see the Cleveland Browns take on the Green Bay Packers.
The fact that streaming numbers are continually increasing is the most positive factor for all stakeholders. 370 billion total minutes were streamed during the regular season, up 18 percent from 2020 and second only to 2015, thanks to Peacock, Paramount+, and ESPN+ extending their offerings.
When the new broadcast contract begins in 2023, those numbers will further rise as “Thursday Night Football” moves full-time to Prime Video next season, along with exclusive streaming games on ESPN Plus and Peacock. After next season, the league’s “Sunday Ticket” deal with DirecTV expires, and many expect several carriers to make a bid.
“Streaming, you can get actual numbers and they are more precise,” Ganis explained. “What we have seen with the NFL and streaming is what we saw with the NFL and cable and satellite TV, which is watching the games is appointment television.” People will find games regardless of the platform they are using. For the streamers, this makes it extremely useful. One of the things that streamers require is a purpose for people to visit them in the first place.
“The NFL is built-in appointment television. It already is where people want to go. And so I would expect the streaming numbers will continue to grow by very large percentages each year.”
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