The first weekends of both professional and college football did not score well on television.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, “the audience for the NFL’s opening slate of Sunday games suffered small declines from a year ago, with Fox’s two games improving and CBS VIAC and NBC taking hits.”
The one bright spot: “Tom Brady’s debut as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helped Fox score the biggest audience of the weekend,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. “The Bucs’ loss to the New Orleans Saints brought in 25.85 million viewers in the late afternoon window, up 8% vs. last year.”
The Thursday night kickoff opener between the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans was the most surprising. The game had 19.3 million viewers on NBC, according to Deadline, a drop of of 12.3% from the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears opening game of the 2019-20 season last September 5.
It’s important to note that for the first time, this year’s ratings include out-of-home viewing, which Nielsen began including in its final nationals August 31. So the drop in ratings is even worse than the raw numbers show.
Locally, the Chicago Tribune reported that “the Bears-Lions game on Fox-32 averaged a 23.9 household rating in the Chicago TV market, per Nielsen estimates, meaning it was on in 23.9% of all area homes.” That represented a “32% decline from the 2019 opener on NBC, which averaged a 35.3 household rating in the Chicago market, but only a 4% decline from the Bears’ first noon telecast last season, a Week 5 loss to the Raiders in London on Fox that averaged a 25.0 rating.”
Meanwhile, in college football, Sports Media Watch notes that the Fighting Irish were the big winners. The Duke-Notre Dame game scored a 2.4 rating, 140% higher from NBC’s first ND telecast last season. But most other college games posted significantly lower television ratings. The biggest losers were Clemson-Wake Forest and Arkansas State-Kansas State, with both games down at least 60% from the same telecast windows in 2019. It is only fair to point out that these games were not exactly barnburners.
It is way too early to think that this past weekend portends a trend. But with the NBA and NHL in the middle of their playoffs, along with MLB games on television, the competition for eyeballs is intense. In addition, more people are streaming live sports, which may account for some of the decline in television ratings.