NFL TV Ratings: Mid-Season Point Sees 6% Decline Compared to 2019

by Kayla Zadel
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NFL is seeing a drop in ratings, but the decline is not as bad as they predicted. However, the pandemic and the presidential election did play a factor in the decline.

The league’s games are averaging 15.1 million TV and digital viewers, according to the NFL and Nielson. Additionally, this is a 6% decline from last year.

Former president of CBS, Neal Pilson now turned sports TV consultant says, “Considering all the issues the NFL has had to deal with, the ratings are OK.” Pilson continues with, “It hasn’t been a great year for ratings considering everything that has happened, but they aren’t in the toilet either.”

Another reason for the slow start could be that there were no NFL pre-season games. This usually helps build up fan interest, sports consultant Marc Ganis reports. Also, all four major professional sports were playing in September.

This year’s presidential election took its toll on the league’s viewership. Games coincided with various major moments during the presidential race. During the last presidential election, NFL ratings were down 14% when they were measured in 2015.

Ganis gives his point of view on the ratings, saying, “I know there have been lots of, well, ‘NFL ratings are down.’ Not really. Election years, they’ve been going down for the last three election cycles, not just the last one.” He continues to weigh in on the trend, “The NFL ratings have actually been quite good. They’re going to get better now that the election is over. The gap between the NFL and all the other sports in terms of TV ratings has grown. So the NFL has gotten stronger vis a vis other sports.”

NFL Primetime Ratings Plunge

It’s actually Thursday and Sunday nights that are taking the hardest hits. These packages have seen the biggest decline, each down 16%.

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” remains on pace to be primetime’s highest-rated show for the 10th year in a row. SNF is averaging 17.2 million viewers, even when the package faced competition for five weeks when NBA and MLB were in the playoffs.

Although it looks like things are trending up, NBC’s had some tough luck the past two weeks. On Nov. 1, NBC has Dallas vs. Philadelphia, while the New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay game last Sunday was a blowout by halftime. The network’s first half this past week averaged 18.9 million viewers. Furthermore, this was the highest since the Cowboys vs. Rams game in week one.

When it comes to Fox, “Thursday Night Football” is averaging 12.8 million. Some extenuating factors have been taken into consideration, though. Like that fact that the Kansas City vs. Buffalo matchup was moved to a late Monday afternoon. This especially includes the Giants vs. Eagles game that competed with the final presidential debate.

However, it’s not all bad news for primetime packages. Take ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The numbers remained consistent throughout the first eight weeks at 11.71 million. 

Sunday Afternoon Numbers Speak Up

CBS is waving the terrible towel, and rallying these past five weeks. Its package is only down by 1%. It’s Fox that has seen the 6% dip.

As a matter of fact, both networks have seen competition from cable news. This comes during that early afternoon window. Flat numbers have been reported for those late afternoon matchups.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus weighs in. “There’s been so much competition, but we’ve had some terrific ratings. Cable news has been up 50 to 75% on weekend afternoons because of interest in the election,” McManus says.

CBS is up 9% over the same period last season. Therefore garnering 17.84 million in viewership. The big numbers came in with the Pittsburgh vs. Dallas game at 22.72 million. Additionally, it was in Week 5 and 7 when the average was 23 million viewers.

Fox has had the three most-viewed games, getting that 17.4 million views. Fox debuted Tom Brady in his new Buccaneers uniform, against the Saints. The Sunday game on opening weekend averaged around 26.3 million, getting a big draw in ratings for Fox and the NFL.

Fox Sports senior vice president Michael Mulvihill reassures everybody that the decline in ratings will pass. “Everything affecting the NFL is temporary,” Mulvihill says.

[H/T: Associated Press]