NFL Pre-Season Opener and 2020 Tokyo Olympics Both Bomb in Thursday Night TV Ratings

by Suzanne Halliburton

OK. No one is watching TV this week. Check that. Fewer people than expected are checking out the Tokyo Olympics and other high-profile network sports programming.

On Thursday night, the Tokyo Olympics slipped to its lowest viewership totals since the competition started, July 23. According to TVLine, NBC’s primetime Thursday coverage averaged 8.6 million total viewers. The demo was a 1.9 demo. The totals were the smallest audience of the Olympics, although the numbers still are preliminary.

Plus, the first NFL game of the exhibition season also failed to pull in a crowd. The game was in conjunction with the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Usually, fans are interested in a game between two traditional teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. But the contest on Fox prime time drew an audience of 6.2 million. No doubt, the game also lured fans away from the Tokyo Olympics. At one point last week, Fox averaged fewer than 1 million viewers per night.

CBS countered with Big Brother (3.6 million) and Love Island (1.7 million).

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

The events for Thursday’s Tokyo Olympics weren’t that attractive, compared to other nights. Track and field is the big draw for the final days of the Olympics. Yet, there was no live event Thursday night. All races and field events happened early Thursday, so everything NBC showed was canned action.

The glamour event on the Thursday night Tokyo Olympic schedule was the gold medal match in women’s beach volleyball. The American team of April Ross and Alix Klineman swept the Australians in two sets. Diving also drives Olympic viewership. But the finals of the women’s platform happened early Thursday. By that night, everyone knew that an amazing 14-year-old diver from China broke an Olympic scoring record.

Meanwhile, few stars played in the NFL exhibition. That’s normal for this point in training camp. The Steelers beat the Cowboys, 16-3. That’s a boring game. Neither starting quarterback even suited up. Dak Prescott (Cowboys) and Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) watched from the sidelines.

About the only news out of the game was the friendliness between Dallas owner Jerry Jones and former coach Jimmy Johnson, the Fox analyst. Johnson also will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Jones and Johnson sat next to each other on the Fox set. Jones gave him a hug. The last time the two sat together as owner and head coach was back in 1994. That’s when Johnson shocked the NFL when he said: “We have mutually decided that I would no longer be the head football coach with the Dallas Cowboys.”

But on Thursday, Jones announced that Johnson would be inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor. It’s not the NFL Hall of Fame, but it helps soothe some of the sting all these decades later.

Now, back to the Tokyo Olympics. The event is headed into its final days. The closing ceremony is Sunday. The big draw Friday night is the gold medal men’s basketball game between the United States and France. There’s also the live semifinals of men’s platform diving and the finish of the women’s marathon.