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UPDATE: With digital properties factored in Tuesday evening, the NFL says its Week 1 ratings are up — ironically — 7% from Week 1 in 2020 at a 16.3 million average.
As we said in our original story, the NFL is fine and context is everything. And with the factors below, Week 1 all-in increase is notable after overcoming several roadblocks. That’s impressive.
Early estimates suggest that Week 1 of the NFL was down around slightly in viewership. While that isn’t ideal, it lacks context.
First, here are where the numbers stand as of now:
All told, Week One NFL ratings (with ESPN/ABC numbers to drop later this afternoon) look to be down 7% YOY, although again the double-barrel 4:20 games make for apples-to-Fiona-Apples comps.
— Anthony Crupi (@crupicrupicrupi) September 14, 2021
Fox’s Sunday regional window dropped 17% from last season, by far the most significant drop of the weekend. However, that is not an apples-to-apples comparison. The NFL scheduled dueling national windows on Fox and CBS Sunday. By contrast, the NFL last year aired Fox’s Bucs-Saints as the sole national afternoon broadcast in Week 1. Because Fox shared this window in 2021, its Packers-Saints broadcast aired head-to-head with CBS’s Chiefs-Browns. Thus, the 17% drop.
So while those year-over-year comparisons will excite NBA fans, they are misleading.
Both games actually drew well. Chiefs-Browns averaged 19.5 million viewers, while the Packers-Saints blowout drew 16.2 million.
Meanwhile, Sunday Night Football on NBC fell 7%, with a 17.6 million average. But again, that’s not a negative when put in proper context. SNF is down from 2020 because last year’s opener featured the Cowboys, the biggest TV draw in sports. On its face, Rams-Bears is more than 7% less appealing than Rams-Cowboys. And that’s coming from a Matt Stafford fan.
Games that feature Dallas often experience double-digit differences. For reference, 2021’s opening night game between the Bucs and Cowboys was up 16% from Chiefs-Texans in 2020.
ESPN will release the numbers for the Ravens and Raiders thriller later on Tuesday. ESPN did not air a doubleheader to start the season like they did in prior years.
UPDATE: ESPN says its Monday Night Football MegaCast presentation drew 15.3 million viewers across ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes.
All context considered, the NFL is fine. In fact, it has never been better on the field. Oh, and there’s an argument that the ratings do not matter anymore to the NFL. The league’s newly-signed 12-year, $100+ billion rights deal with its broadcast partners will quickly ease any worries.