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Volume 27 No. 26
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Crowded Schedule, Election Contribute To NFL Viewership Drop

NFL TV viewership through Week 4 is down around 10% from the same period last season. The league is averaging 14.6 million viewers for its games across ABC, CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and NFL Network. Last year at this time, the NFL averaged 16.3 million viewers per game. The league also is down compared to the same period during the last presidential election season in '16. This year was always going to be tough for the NFL, which has seen viewership drops in previous presidential election years. This election cycle is no different, with cable news networks posting huge viewership gains (up around 37% right now). Throw in a crowded sports calendar that has seen the NFL compete with the NBA and NHL playoffs for the first time, not to mention TV schedule shifts (some due to COVID, some not), and you end up with lower figures virtually across the board.

FOX, ESPN BUCKING TRENDS: The best story is at Fox, which leads all networks at 18.3 million viewers per game. That is down only 2% from '19. ESPN also has a good story to tell, with a 1% gain through Week 4. A megacast in Week 2 for the opening of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas helped with the year-over-year gains; competition this week from a Patriots-Chiefs game in the exclusive “MNF” window hurt. NBC and CBS are both down 14% in viewership for their respective packages (figures below). NBC has run into abnormal competition, like Game 3 of the NBA Finals this past week, while CBS had the popular Chiefs-Patriots game moved from the late Sunday window to Monday night against ESPN’s broadcast. For three Thursday night games, NFL Network is down 10% compared to three games last season through Week 4.

PREGAME SHOWS DOWN, STREAMING UP: Viewer doldrums are affecting pregame shows, too, including: “Fox NFL Kickoff” (-14%); “Fox NFL Sunday” (-11%); “The NFL Today” (-18%); and “Sunday NFL Countdown” (-20%). Streaming numbers represent a good news story for these networks. Fox’s streaming of games is up 45% in average minute audience. For each of the first four weeks of the season, the CBS All Access platform has seen triple-digit year-over-year growth in streams for games.

NFL GAME VIEWERSHIP THROUGH WEEK 4
NETWORK
2020 (000)
2019 (000)
2018 (000)
2017 (000)
2016 (000)
Fox
18,307
18,650
17,915
18,220
19,331
NBC
18,005
20,919
19,887
20,095
22,032
CBS
14,667
16,973
16,347
15,186
17,246
ESPN
11,365
11,295
11,103
11,904
11,306
Download the
NFL Viewership Chart