SBD/Issue 80/Sports Media

The Watchmen: NFL Sees Most-Viewed Regular Season Since '90

NFL's Network Partners See Best Game
Viewership Numbers Since '90 Season

The NFL benefitted from gains by each of its network partners in '09, seeing the league's best overall game viewership since '90, according to Nielsen ratings data. Fox led all broadcast partners with an 11.4 average Nielsen rating and 19.1 million viewers for its NFL regular-season telecasts, marking the net's most-viewed season ever and highest-rated season since the net averaged a 12.5 rating in '95. Compared to last season, Fox was up 9% from a 10.5 average rating, marking the its biggest year-over-year NFL increase ever. The net's 19.1 million viewers for all games broke the record set of 18.2 million viewers set in '95, and was up from 17.0 million viewers last season. Fox' nine national-window telecasts in '09 averaged a 15.5 rating and 26.2 million viewers, both new records for the net. They also marked the highest-rated and most-viewed program each week Fox carried the national window. Meanwhile, CBS also saw gains for its '09 NFL telecasts, averaging a 10.4 rating and 17.2 million viewers for the season, marking the net's second-highest regular-season average since the net regained NFL rights prior to the '98 season. The figures are also up 4.0% and 6.1%, respectively, from a year ago.

PRIMETIME: NBC's "Sunday Night Football" averaged an 11.7 rating and 19.4 million viewers for 17 telecasts this season, which includes the season-opening Thursday night NFL Kickoff. Those figures are up 14.7% and 16.7%, respectively, from a 10.2 rating and 16.6 million viewers a year ago. The net had only three game telecasts with year-over-year viewership declines, and all three were compared to Cowboys games from '08. "SNF" was the most-viewed Sunday primetime broadcast for 15 of its 16 telecasts, trumped once by Yankees-Angels ALCS Game Six on Fox, which was the deciding game in that series. On cable, ESPN's "MNF" package averaged a 10.4 cable rating and 14.382 million viewers for its 17 telecasts this season, marking the net's highest-rated and most-viewed season since "MNF" moved to ESPN for the '06 season. NFL Net also had its best season yet, as its eight-game package averaged 5.5 million viewers, up 49% from last season's 3.7 million average viewers and up 20% from the previous high of 4.6 million viewers in '07 (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).

FINAL '09 NFL GAME VIEWERSHIP
NETWORK
'09
'08
% +/-
Fox
19,097
16,992
12.4%
NBC
19,418
16,638
16.7%
CBS
17,196
16,211
6.1%
ESPN
14,382
11,962
20.2%
NFL Network
5,548
3,738
48.4%

MARKET WATCH: NFL regular-season games were the highest-rated program locally 89% of the time, topping the record set last season (88%). Compared to five seasons ago, the NFL games topped local NFL market ratings 68% of the time, while the figure was 55% in '01. The Cincinnati market saw ratings jump 48%, the largest local market jump from '08. Nashville was the top "SNF" market during '09 telecasts, averaging a 19.3 local rating. Pittsburgh and Indianapolis ranked second and third, respectively. ESPN's "MNF" saw New Orleans lead all markets with an 18.8 local rating for the season, followed by Las Vegas (17.2 rating) and San Diego (14.2 rating).

SHOULDER PROGRAMMING: NBC's "Football Night In America" averaged 7.4 million viewers from 7:30-8:15pm ET, up 18% from a year ago. The "Fox NFL Sunday" pregame show averaged a 3.2 rating and 4.9 million viewers, down slightly in ratings, but up from 4.8 million viewers a year ago, and gives the network a pregame win over CBS' "The NFL Today" for the 12th consecutive season. Fox also saw its most-viewed season ever for "The OT", its postgame show following national window telecasts. "The OT" averaged a 7.6 rating (12.7 million viewers), up 10% from a 6.9 rating a year ago. ESPN's two NFL pregame shows both saw gains in viewership in '09. "Sunday NFL Countdown" averaged 2.502 million viewers, up 1.8% from 2.458 million viewers, while "Monday Night Countdown" averaged 3.006 million viewers, up 20.4% from 2.496 million viewers a year ago. Complete season-long ratings for CBS' "The NFL Today" were unavailable at presstime.

TOP GAMES: Fox' telecasts took four of the top five sports this season among the NFL's most-viewed game telecasts. In all, seven of their nine NFL national windows ranked in the top ten overall, compared to two for CBS.

TOP TEN MOST-VIEWED '09 NFL REGULAR-SEASON GAME TELECASTS
(according to Nielsen Media data)
RK
TELECAST
DATE
NET
RAT.
VIEWERS (000)
1
"NFL on Fox": Vikings-Packers (91%)
11/1
Fox
17.4
29,820
2
"NFL on Fox": Falcons-Cowboys (56%)
10/25
Fox
16.8
28,399
3
"NFL on CBS": Broncos-Eagles (57%)
12/27
CBS
16.3
28,240
4
"NFL on Fox": Cowboys-Giants (90%)
12/6
Fox
16.6
27,834
5
"NFL on Fox": Cowboys-Packers (85%)
11/15
Fox
15.9
26,747
6
"NFL on Fox": Eagles-Cowboys (79%)
1/3
Fox
15.2
26,453
7
"NFL on Fox": Packers-Steelers (42%);
49ers-Eagles (42%)*
12/20
Fox
15.1
25,829
8
"NFL on CBS": Raiders-Cowboys
11/26
CBS
11.6
25,207
9
"NFL on Fox": Redskins-Giants (85%)
9/13
Fox
14.8
25,109
10
"Sunday Night Football": Giants-Cowboys
9/20
NBC
15.1
24,817

NOTE: * = Weather concerns forced two games from Fox regional window to national window

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