L.A. Rams, QBs like Patrick Mahomes help NFL TV ratings trend upward midway through season
NFL broadcasts so far this season have seen something that's been absent the last couple of years: ratings growth.
Although hardly dramatic, games broadcast on CBS, NBC and ESPN have seen between a 1-6% improvement over through the first eight weeks of the season, according to numbers provided to USA TODAY Sports by the networks. Fox, meanwhile, has seen ratings flat through midseason, not surprising since the network has moved some of its better Sunday afternoon matchups to Thursday Night Football, a package of games it secured as part of a multiyear deal.
“I think there’s a number of reasons,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus told USA TODAY Sports. “There have been a lot of really good storylines: young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes playing well, the Los Angeles Rams have driven a lot of interest and there have been several overtime games. The NFL has and for the foreseeable future will be the strongest programming on television.”
The gain comes as player protests to call attention to racial inequality and police brutality – a largely debunked reason critics like President Donald Trump cite for the NFL’s ratings’ decline – continue, although McManus said it has become less decisive. The NFL's broadcast audience declined 10 percent in 2017 and 8 percent in 2016, although a USA TODAY investigation showed President Trump’s attacks on Twitter and elsewhere had little not no impact on ratings.
NBC – which broadcasts Sunday Night Football – had the biggest ratings improvement through the first eight weeks (6%). Like last year’s Week 8 game, Sunday’s tilt between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings lost out to the World Series, but the 9.7 overnight was 3% better than 2017. The Boston’s Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers scored a 12.3 overnight rating.
The World Series' rating, however, was lower than the lead-in NFL game on Fox as the Rams-Packers netted a 15.0.
CBS has seen an improvement over more than 3% so far, including a 13% boost in Week 8 vs. the same Sunday a year prior.
ESPN’s numbers through the first seven weeks – the network’s Week 8 game is Monday night — are also trending upward. The eight games it has broadcast so far (ESPN had two games in Week 1) have seen a ratings gain of more than 1 percent with an average of 11.4 million viewers, a more than 2 percent bigger audience than last year.
The NFL ratings gains come as most of network televisions have slipped over the last two months compared with a year ago.
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