NFL Viewership Rebounds in Week 1 in Early Sign of Comeback
(Bloomberg) -- After declining last season for the first time in three years, NFL viewership bounced back in the first week of the new season.
The league said Tuesday the audience averaged 17.4 million viewers per game over traditional TV and online platforms, a 7% increase from the same period last year.
CBS’s two Sunday afternoon games drew an average of 16.6 million viewers, up 21% from last year’s opening weekend, the network said. NBC’s total audience averaged 22.9 million for its Thursday and Sunday night games, an 11% jump.
The rebound is an early vindication of the media companies’ large long-term bets on the sport’s popularity. Earlier this year, CBS, Comcast Corp.’s NBC, Fox, ESPN and Amazon.com Inc. agreed to spend $105 billion on NFL broadcast rights for another decade. While the sport is by far TV’s biggest attraction, there were signs going into this season that viewers were tuning out. Last year, regular season NFL viewership fell 7%.
The TV audience for football depends in part on the matchups on the field. NBC benefited from a close Thursday game between two of the sport’s biggest draws: the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Tom Brady at quarterback, and the Dallas Cowboys.
CBS, part of ViacomCBS Inc., said one of its two games -- Cleveland versus Kansas City -- was its most-watched opening weekend matchup since 2015, with an audience of 19.5 million. Fox Corp. said its game of the week averaged 16.2 million viewers.
The networks have been trying different strategies to reach new audiences. Walt Disney Co. aired its Monday night game over multiple channels, averaging 15.3 million viewers, a 59% increase from last year. In addition to broadcasts on ESPN and ABC, the company featured a new show on ESPN2 with brothers and former quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning providing commentary.
Last season’s decline could be blamed in part on factors related to the pandemic, including scheduling disruptions, making this season a better test of the NFL’s longer-term value as a draw for advertisers. So far, viewers are coming back.
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