NFL Television Ratings Begin To Rebound, College Football Ratings Plummet

by Chris Haney
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NFL television ratings have been a huge topic since the season began in recent weeks, but new data is showing NFL viewership is starting to rebound while college football ratings are falling drastically.

Both college and the NFL started their seasons off poorly ratings wise. The audience for the NFL’s opening series of Sunday games suffered declines from a year ago. Additionally, most college games posted much lower numbers than last year.

Analysts assumed the ratings drop for both leagues was the result of numerous sports returning to play all at once. Especially, the NBA and NHL playoffs that have normally completed their seasons by early summer. However, COVID-19 restrictions forced most leagues to pause, cancel, or reschedule games.

In addition, college football was thought to take a hit for another reason. The sport’s most popular division – the Southeastern Conference (SEC) – delayed its restart even longer than most. Therefore the sport missed out on thousands, if not millions, of SEC fans’ viewership.

However, competition from other sports programming could have no relation to football’s ratings. Last week, even as the NBA and NHL playoffs continued, the NFL gained strong comeback numbers.

More Details On NFL and College Football TV Ratings

NFL viewership hit week-three highs both overall and on Monday night, according to Sports Media Watch. The national afternoon game – Cowboys-Seahawks in 72 percent of markets – averaged 22.79 million viewers during the Fox broadcast. Those numbers represent the largest Week 3 NFL audience in the last six years.

In fact, so far through three weeks of games, the top 15 TV shows by viewership have all been NFL games. The news could not come at a better time for NFL executives. The league is still working on new media deals with the likes of Fox, Disney (ESPN), CBS, and NBC. The NFL’s national media deals are expected to double to $15 billion annually from $7.5 billion.

Yet, for college football the SEC restart this past weekend did not bring the bounce back ratings they expected. Mississippi State’s upset of LSU averaged 4.44 million viewers during Saturday’s season premiere of the SEC on CBS. The rating marked the highest viewership of the college football season to date. The previous high was 4.32 million for Notre Dame’s home opener against Duke on NBC.

But, viewership fell 10 percent from last year’s SEC on CBS debut, which took place one week earlier in the season (Alabama-South Carolina, 4.95 million viewers). Viewership during the same week of last season still fell five percent (Auburn-Texas A&M, 4.66 million viewers).

Outside of the SEC, many of the other college ratings were awful. For example, ABC averaged 1.45 million viewers, a decline of 43 percent for West Virginia-Oklahoma State. UCF-ECU averaged 998,000 viewers, a decline of 35 percent. Also, ESPN averaged 1.08 million, a 30 percent decline for the Army-Cincinnati game.

Other Reasons For the Declining TV Ratings

Furthermore, the decline in ratings could involve other factors including the uncertainty surrounding college football. The NFL has not missed any regular season games so far, only preseason. And the league has a clear path towards a normal postseason.

However, college football began play at separate times according to each athletic conference’s protocols. There has been little to no clarity about selecting teams for the playoffs in an adjusted season. In fact, there does not seem to be a unified decision between all college football conferences as of now.

Finally, one last factor that should not be ignored is sports betting. The NFL has the highest betting handle in all of sports, which can be a huge motivator for bettors to watch games live.

[H/T Forbes]

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