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Volume 20 No. 42
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Saints dominate local preseason ratings

New Orleans has top 15 games over last four years

Don’t tell New Orleans Saints fans that NFL preseason games are meaningless.

A SportsBusiness Journal analysis of preseason games broadcast locally over the past four seasons shows that the Saints scored the highest local ratings for their games, and did so by a wide margin. How dominant were the Saints?

The Saints, with Drew Brees at quarterback, have averaged no worse than a 37.2 local preseason rating since 2010.

The 15 highest-rated games locally leaguewide across the four-year span were all Saints games. That’s 15 of 16 New Orleans preseason games tracked between 2010 and 2013, and the one that didn’t register was Week 4 in 2012, when Hurricane Isaac caused power outages in New Orleans so Nielsen was unable to track local viewership of the game.

While seven other clubs across the league averaged at least a 14.0 local rating in each of last four preseasons, none of those clubs ever posted a 30.0 average for a preseason. The Saints hit that average all four years ­— with their lowest average being a 37.2 in 2010 (see highlighted teams in chart, at right).

Cox Sports Television has been the Saints’ local preseason rights holder since 2006. The network controls the majority of the ad sales for the games, with the Saints holding a small amount of inventory for partner fulfillment, according to the team.

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Such a hybrid arrangement is not uncommon, according to executives from multiple NFL clubs. However, factors such as the presence of team-owned broadcast-quality production facilities in a stadium, team-related shoulder programming that is part of the rights deal, and broadcast partnerships with other teams in the market are just a few of the factors that prevent a single preseason ad sales template from being replicated from one NFL market to another.

Comparisons of teams’ preseason viewership from year to year can be tricky; game time, location, opponent and national broadcasts can each play a factor. While those fluctuations even out for most clubs across the span of several seasons, a few teams have significant deviations in their numbers over the past four seasons. The Seattle Seahawks, for example, signed a five-year deal with Tribune Broadcasting’s KCPQ (Fox) prior to the 2012 season, replacing Gannett-owned KING (NBC), which had been the team’s rights holder for the previous eight seasons. The club’s local ratings last preseason were nearly double what they were in 2010 — a good start on TV to a season that ended with a Super Bowl championship on the field.

TEAM 2013 2012 2011 2010
Arizona Cardinals 9.3 9.1 11.2 13.2
Atlanta Falcons 8.5 6.8 9.1 8.4
Baltimore Ravens 20.7 14.3 21.0 20.4
Buffalo Bills 15.2 13.8 13.6 14.9
Carolina Panthers 14.5 12.5 14.5 14.9
Chicago Bears 13.7 11.8 14.1 11.6
Cincinnati Bengals 15.5 12.9 15.6 18.2
Cleveland Browns 17.1 17.2 17.7 18.8
Dallas Cowboys 9.6 14.3 18.3 17.9
Denver Broncos 18.6 18.7 19.0 19.0
Detroit Lions 11.5 10.4 12.1 9.4
Green Bay Packers 16.4 25.0 22.6 23.1
Houston Texans 17.5 13.7 15.7 13.1
Indianapolis Colts 15.0 19.8 13.2 15.5
Jacksonville Jaguars 12.9 14.2 15.0 13.1
Kansas City Chiefs 22.3 18.3 20.6 21.3
Miami Dolphins 7.8 7.6 11.1 9.5
Minnesota Vikings 16.4 13.3 16.0 18.2
New England Patriots 14.8 12.5 13.7 11.9
New Orleans Saints 38.6 38.8 39.0 37.2
New York Giants 6.1 5.4 5.4 5.4
New York Jets 4.9 6.2 5.2 4.6
Oakland Raiders 2.6 5.5 8.7 5.5
Philadelphia Eagles 13.3 13.9 14.3 11.5
Pittsburgh Steelers 23.7 27.1 27.8 29.6
San Diego Chargers 12.9 12.3 19.7 14.7
San Francisco 49ers 10.8 8.2 9.2 10.5
Seattle Seahawks 22.3 13.1 12.5 11.9
St. Louis Rams 9.4 8.7 12.4 9.4
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9.0 7.2 9.0 7.8
Tennessee Titans 16.9 15.4 20.2 20.1
Washington Redskins 11.6 9.7 15.5 12.8
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of data provided by the NFL and local rights holders
Chicago Bears 448,063
New York Giants 415,733
Philadelphia Eagles 395,063
New York Jets 388,267
Dallas Cowboys 379,438
Houston Texans 327,000
New England Patriots 317,563
Pittsburgh Steelers 314,375
Washington Redskins 294,750
Denver Broncos 292,875
Minnesota Vikings 276,500
Seattle Seahawks 273,250
Cleveland Browns 267,063
New Orleans Saints 244,733
San Francisco 49ers 241,667
Baltimore Ravens 209,188
Detroit Lions 203,769
Arizona Cardinals 200,938
Green Bay Packers 196,438
Kansas City Chiefs 195,313
Atlanta Falcons 193,250
Tennessee Titans 190,938
Indianapolis Colts 169,563
San Diego Chargers 163,286
Carolina Panthers 161,688
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 148,250
Oakland Raiders 140,333
Miami Dolphins 139,733
Cincinnati Bengals 133,125
St. Louis Rams 125,714
Jacksonville Jaguars 92,625
Buffalo Bills 91,700
Sources: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of data provided by the NFL and local rights holders

Among other findings:

After the Saints games, 11 of the 16 next-highest rated games were Pittsburgh Steelers broadcasts, with local ratings that ranged from 21.3 to 31.4 during the past four years. Thirteen of the Steelers’ 16 preseason games in the four-year span aired on local CBS affiliate KDKA, the club’s TV partner since 1998. (The other three were national Fox and NBC broadcasts and thus carried by those local network affiliates.)

The Oakland Raiders’ 2.6 average rating last year was the lowest among any club in the four years measured. Oakland was also one of only five teams to not see a double-digit average at least once in the four-year span. The others: New York’s Jets and Giants, and two clubs in the Southeast — Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

From a viewership perspective, 25 of the 27 games that garnered the most local viewers were broadcast in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia. The Chicago Bears averaged 448,000 weekly viewers for their preseason games across the past four years, tops in the league, with the New York Giants coming in at No. 2, with nearly 416,000 viewers per game (see chart).

Knowing your hometown team is playing in front of a national audience seems to generate interest in most markets. Across the league, 29 teams had at least one of their four traditional annual preseason games broadcast on NBC, CBS, Fox or ESPN over the past four years. (The only three without: Buffalo, Cleveland and Miami, though the Dolphins appeared in the additional Hall of Fame Game last year.) Of those 29 teams, 22 saw an increase of 15 percent to 30 percent in the size of their local audience for those games. On the high side, the Washington Redskins saw their local viewership jump by 36 percent, and the Jets’ viewership in the New York market nearly doubled if a game was nationally televised. The gains were more limited for the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, who saw their average in-market audience increase only about 5 percent during nationally televised games compared with those shown just on their local rights holders.

A total of 38 broadcasts were blacked out locally across the four years, although the number of teams affected dropped from eight in 2010 to four last year. Those four clubs were:

Buffalo: The Bills have had three straight preseasons without a home game shown in Buffalo.

Cincinnati: The Bengals have not had a home preseason game broadcast locally in the past four seasons.

Oakland: Seven of their last eight home preseason games have been blacked out.

Tampa Bay: Every preseason home game for the past four years has been blacked out.


There were 512 total possible local preseason broadcasts from 2010 through 2013. That counts coverage in both the home team’s market and the road team’s market for each of 256 games. The annual Hall of Fame Game, which features only a national TV broadcast, was not included in this analysis.

Of those 512, 38 were blacked out in the home team’s market during that time because of insufficient ticket sales, and three broadcasts were not rated because of weather issues (Hurricane Isaac in New Orleans in 2012; Hurricane Irene in New York, for a Jets-Giants game, in 2011). Eliminating those, that left 471 NFL preseason showings that could be tracked in the NFL’s 30 team markets from 2010-13.

Twenty-five games were televised nationally on either NBC, CBS or Fox. Only the local viewership data for those games is included here. For example, Tampa Bay and New England played a preseason game last year that aired nationally on Fox. WFXT, Fox’s Boston affiliate, earned a 14.6 local rating for the game, and WTVT (Fox) in Tampa generated a 10.0 local rating. Those figures were used in the team-by-team analysis here.

ESPN aired 16 games, and the majority of those broadcasts were simulcast by the local rights holder for each club. For those simulcast games, the local ratings (and viewership) for each broadcaster were combined for tabulation here.