NFL puts positive spin on Week 1 ratings decline, says it had top-five rated TV shows last week

Frank Schwab
·3 mins read

On one hand, the NFL isn’t wrong to brag that each of the top five rated television shows of last week were its football games.

Week 1 in the NFL saw the kind of ratings numbers that any sports league, network or any television show in general would love to have. The NFL pointed that out on Wednesday.

That’s fair. If you get more than 25 million people to watch anything live in this era, you have something special.

However, fair or not, the NFL isn’t competing against other television shows (especially with the lack of new programming for non-sports shows last week) and it’s definitely not competing against other sports leagues. It is competing against its past success, and in that way, it’s hard to paint Week 1 as a win for the league.

Week 1 ratings were a mixed bag

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the ratings stories from the NFL’s first week.

The Thursday night opener was way down from a year ago, despite Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs being involved. Then “Sunday Night Football” saw a big dip even though the Dallas Cowboys, who have an enormous fanbase, were playing after an offseason of optimism and hype.

Yet, the late afternoon game between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Tom Brady’s Bucs debut, was the highest rated Week 1 game for Fox and the highest rated television show since the Super Bowl, outdoing the Academy Awards. Bucs-Saints had 25.8 million viewers, and the Academy Awards in February averaged 23.9 million.

We wouldn’t sound any alarms if a show could claim to be the highest rated in all of television since a pandemic hit six months ago, yet that is the reaction to the NFL’s Week 1 ratings.

Ratings were down for "Sunday Night Football," despite a close game between the Cowboys and Rams. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Ratings were down for "Sunday Night Football," despite a close game between the Cowboys and Rams. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

NFL will be watching ratings closely

The NFL set the bar high, drawing ridiculous television numbers for years. It won’t be able to escape that past success when it comes to ratings stories.

It’s hard to know what is behind the ratings drop. Some will claim it’s politics, with players demonstrating to promote racial equality. The NFL has claimed it will support its players and focus on what is right this time, unlike 2016, and not concern itself with any potential ratings dip. The lack of a preseason, and the buzz that comes with it, gave the feeling that the start of the season crept up on everyone. There is also the pandemic itself, and the concern that the season might not reach a conclusion. Maybe fans don’t want to get too invested right away.

Regardless, a lot of people still watched the NFL. It’s just a question of whether it’s enough for the league.

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