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Cowboys-49ers draw massive crowd, set table for conference title games NFL: TV Sports

Cowboys-49ers draw massive crowd, set table for conference title games NFL: TV Sports

It’s the busiest time of the year for Americans, who watch live sports on television in gigantic numbers.

More precisely, for viewing NFL football. And that’s why the networks and tech giants are paying the league more than $113 billion over the next decade.

January and February—the last month that Cupid was denied a Super Bowl—are the calendar territory in which the NFL playoffs take place, and they make up the most-watched domestic television programs every year. Far away.

In one of the league’s deepest playoff battles, the 49ers’ 19-12 win over Cowboys – I’m still surprised this weird and dumb last game — averaged 45.65 million viewers on Fox, the network said is in contention to become the most-watched divisional playoff game since Packers-Cowboys’ record 48.52 million viewers in January 2017.

Of course, there’s a big … (drum roll please!) … caveat to such lofty numbers: out-of-home (OOH) viewership. These are people who watch in places other than home, such as bars or hotels. Nielsen has only been measuring OOH since 2020 and could add 10 percent or more to the NFL’s total audience.

So, as Sports Media Watch reported earlier today, that means that GiantsPackers divisional game in January 2012, which averaged 45.12 million viewers, was likely a bigger audience than Sunday’s Niners win. Probably 50 million. Ditto for the 44.38 million who watched Cowboys-Packers in January 2015 — maybe around 49 million if OOH is included in the total.

While these are incremental differences, they are clearly important to the networks, particularly as the way Americans consume TV content changes amid competing options and technologies. Audience bragging is part of how the industry works, both in and out of sports television, and numbers and “best-ever” stuff reinforce The dominance of the NFL on television storytelling (and more money-making commercial airtime prices).

The game peaked at 51.52 million viewers from 9:30 to 9:45 p.m. (Nielsen measures audiences in 15-minute segments), just in time for the final, farcical play with Zach Elliott under center.

Okay, enough of the stupid TV math. Here’s how this weekend’s other playoff games panned out on TV:

of Bengal 27, Bills 10: This showcase of the NFL’s top two young pass rushers averaged 39.32 million viewers on CBS and Paramount+ on Sunday, which began at 3pm in Western New York. It ranks as, excluding OOH, the most-watched opening Sunday division game since Dallas-Green Bay in January 2015. This year’s game peaked at 44.7 million viewers.

Main 27, Jaguars 20: Another game with hot defenders — proven elite pass rushers Patrick Mahomesand filled with potential Trevor Lawrence who was coming off a wild four-INT/four-TD upset over Chargers. That’s an average of 34.3 million viewers on NBC and the Peacock at 4:30pm Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Orlov 38, Giants 7: Nature hates a vacuum and sports fans hate explosions. Saturday night’s least-watched game of the weekend averaged 28.64 million viewers for Fox (which does not have a separate streaming service). While that’s the kind of audience any non-NFL program could put its soul on eBay for, it’s not a good fit for this NFC East rivalry in a prime-time playoff game. It peaked at 33.13 million at 9 p.m

Last year’s four division games averaged 37.13 million viewers. This year it was 36.97 million. Love or hate the NFL and the TV networks, it’s functionally the same year after year, with the games dominating the rest of television and winning over their key advertising demographic. The car continues to huff.

All of this sets up this weekend’s conference championship game and the Super Bowl on February 12th.

The NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Eagles is scheduled for 3:00 PM on Fox from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Last year’s game (49ers-Rams) averaged 50.23 million viewers at the end of the game.

The AFC Championship Game between the Bengals and Chiefs scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on CBS from Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Last year’s game (also Bengals-Chiefs) averaged 47.85 million viewers as an early game.

Will this season’s title matches reach or exceed those numbers? A couple of shakes of my aging Magic 8 Ball and it tells me “Prediction is good” but also “Ask again later”. He gave me the same answers when I asked if he had Brown would win 1986 AFC Championshipso maybe we should stick with the “I Ching” or Zoltar, the animatronic divination machine.

Regardless of my quack prediction devices, the games will draw massive audiences for the NFL and both networks, and barring some unforeseen event (weather, technical issues, comical one-way blowout), they’ll likely be No. 2 and No. 2. 3 the most watched programs on American television in 2023 after the Super Bowl.

Like recently Sportico noted, 82 of the top 100 programs on television last year as measured by Nielsen were NFL games, and 11 of the top 16 programs overall were playoff games. Not surprisingly, Super Bowl LVI topped the annual list with more than 100 million viewers.

The only non-NFL playoff broadcasts at the top of the list were several Thanksgiving games, the various networks’ State of the Nation address, Cowboys-Packers in Week 10 and Cowboys-Eagles in Week 16.

How did the rest of the sports network compare to last week’s NFL coverage?

The most viewed NBA game was 1 million for Thursday’s Warriors-Celtics telecast on TNT. WWE Friday Night Smackdown averaged 2.25 million. Michigan State men’s basketball at Indiana averaged 2.24 million at noon Sunday on CBS. The Major leagueManchester United at Arsenal drew 1.92 million viewers across NBC, Peacock and NBC Sports Digital at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. ESPN2’s coverage of the round of 16 at the Australian Open on Saturday night averaged 388,000 viewers. Lightning-Oilers hockey averaged 323,000 Thursday night on ESPN. And golf’s best telecast was 584,000 on Sunday afternoon for the final round of the LPGA.

Those numbers are a fraction of NFL averages, and that’s okay! The comparison is unfair because expectations and success rates, as well as revenue targets and viewership totals for other sports are not indexed to professional football, even though it is the default position for casual observers and sharpeners. Nothing is fair compared to the NFL. But the contrast is a useful reminder of just how big the NFL has become in the context of modern television.

Whether that’s good, bad or something in between for the TV industry, fans, business partners or those not getting paid by the league or networks remains to be seen.

All audience data comes from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics, along with other metrics from television networks, Nielsen, Sports Media Watch, ShowBuzz Daily, 506Sports.com and leagues. All times are Eastern Time unless otherwise noted.

(Top photo: Theoran W. Henderson/Getty Images)





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