Television and digital ratings for the National Football League’s regular-season games jumped 10% compared with last season and were the league’s best numbers since 2015, according to Nielsen data.
The average audience for regular-season games was 17.1 million viewers, compared with 15.6 million in the 2020 regular season. Last season was marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to empty stadiums and many rescheduled games as players contracted the coronavirus. In addition, coverage of the 2020 presidential election led to strong ratings competition from cable-news networks.
The pandemic also affected this season. Many players missed games, and a handful of games were rescheduled late in the season. Still, compared to last season, the NFL managed to limit its Covid-19 disruptions.
The season, which was extended to 17 games from 16 in previous years, was full of meaningful contests that scored big ratings.
The return of the Dallas Cowboys to the league’s elite teams provided a boost to ratings. According to the NFL, the Cowboys were featured in five of the 10 most-watched games this season, including a Thanksgiving matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders on
that averaged nearly 41 million viewers and was the biggest game of the season in terms of ratings.
Ratings were also lifted by several close, competitive games and the parity among teams, with many in contention for postseason play late into the season. A record 34 games were decided on the final play, according to the league. Overall, 64% of all games were competitive in the fourth quarter, the league said.
Among the TV rights holders, NBC’s regular-season package of mostly Sunday night games averaged 19.3 million viewers across all platforms, up 11% from the previous season.
Sunday afternoon NFL national and regional coverage averaged 18.6 million viewers, a 2% increase from last season. The national games on Fox averaged 23.1 million viewers.
CBS averaged 18 million viewers, a 9% increase from last season.
Walt Disney Co.
’s ESPN, which holds Monday Night Football rights, averaged 14.2 million viewers, a 16% increase over last season. That figure also includes two Saturday games the network and its sister broadcast platform ABC carried last Saturday.
Thursday night games, which were carried by Fox and the NFL Network and are streamed on
Prime, averaged 16.4 million viewers this season, a gain of 16%. Next season,
will become the exclusive media outlet for most Thursday games.
Write to Joe Flint at [email protected]
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Appeared in the January 13, 2022, print edition as ‘NFL Viewership Scores 10% Gain.’
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