Four of the five networks broadcasting to the league have grown by more than 20 percent, including ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” package.
The NFL and television executives expected ratings to increase this season. But the rate at which they have grown after the first four weeks has taken many by surprise.
The games are averaging 17.3 million viewers via television and digital, an impressive 17 percent jump from last season, and 3 percent from two years ago.
Whether the league can maintain that level of growth remains to be seen. Last season was played during a pandemic, most of it in empty stadiums. Furthermore, the viewing habits of many changed during a presidential election year in the United States.
The league has had the first 21 shows in rating since the start of the season. The best two have had Tom brady and the champions of Super Bowl, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The return of Brady to New england last Sunday was the highest, with an average of 26.7 million viewers, with the season opener against the Dallas cowboys second, with 24.8 million.
The match between Bucs–Patriots it was the second most watched for NBC since it began airing on the “Sunday Night Football” package in 2006.
“I think the league is shooting on all cylinders now,” said NBC Sports Group chief Pete Bevacqua. “As much as last year was a great achievement in getting the season through without delay, you see what it does to have full stadiums, along with the power and passion that the fans bring.
“Not only have we had great matchups, on paper, but they have been incredible on the field.”
Four of the five networks that broadcast the league have grown by more than 20 percent. Thursday night’s three NFL Network games averaged 8.1 million, which is 29 percent up from last season and at its highest average since 2018. Last Thursday’s game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals averaged 8.5 million, the best figure for a game not shared with Fox or CBS since the Cleveland browns they faced the New York Jets in 2018.
NBC’s package is at 23.1 million, an increase of 24 percent, and is at its best average for this point in the season since 2015. CBS (17.87 million) and the “Monday Night Football” from ESPN (14.2 million) have grown by 22 percent,
Fox has the highest percentage on Sunday afternoon, at 18 million, but that’s just a 2 percent increase from last season. Fox did not have a double undercard in Week 1, which could be one of the reasons its ratings have not taken a big leap.
Closed games have also been a factor for the increases. At this point, a league record of 15 of the 64 games played have been decided by a touchdown in the final minute of regulation time or overtime. Plus, all but 23 games have been within a touchdown at some point in the fourth quarter.