Ratings Roundup: Week 1 of NFL Action Receives Mixed Bag With Loaded Sports Schedule

Ratings roundup is a rundown of rating news from the past week and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, numbers from Week 1 of the NFL roll in, Notre Dame returns to NBC, and more.

NFL Week 1
The first game of ESPN’s signature NFL Week 1 Monday Night Football doubleheader — Pittsburgh Steelers at the New York Giants (7 p.m. ET) — delivered cable’s third-highest audience for a sporting event in 2020 and cable’s best in the category since January, as the game averaged 10,760,000 viewers. Compared to last year, the game was down 21%.

Inclusive of all cable programs in 2020 – sports and beyond – the audience for Steelers-Giants ranks as the fourth best overall, trailing ESPN’s presentation of the CFP National Championship on January 13 and the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day, in addition to the State of the Union Address on February 4 (Fox News).

The audience for the Steelers’ victory surpassed ESPN’s audience for the 2018 MNF doubleheader opening game between the New York Jets and Detroit Lions (10.4 million viewers), but trailed last year’s corresponding game, a thrilling come-from-behind victory for the New Orleans Saints over Houston.

Additional Steelers-Giants Highlights:

  • ESPN’s audience peaked at 13,101,000 viewers (9-9:15 p.m.)
  • Inclusive of ESPN’s Deportes, the viewership was 10,810,000 fans
  • Local markets: Pittsburgh was the top market, drawing a 36.1 local rating across both WTAE (25.9) and ESPN (10.2). New York, the No. 3 market, finished with a 10.5 rating across WPIX (4.1) and ESPN (6.4)
  • Other markets include:
    • Philadelphia (11.1)
    • Baltimore (10.1)
    • Washington, DC & Denver (10.0)
    • Norfolk & West Palm Beach (9.9)
    • Cleveland & Columbus (9.8)

ESPN’s second game of the Monday Night Football doubleheader featuring the Tennessee Titans at the Denver Broncos (10:15 p.m.) delivered an audience of 7,697,000 which ranks among the top six most-viewed sporting events on cable in 2020. Compared to last year, the game was down 38%. ESPN has now aired seven sporting events with more than seven million viewers in 2020, a feat no other cable network has accomplished once.

The annual MNF doubleheader lead ESPN to “Win the Night,” as the network was the most-watched across broadcast and cable in primetime among households, viewers, and key demos (M18-34, M18-49, M25-54, P18-34, P18-49, P25-54).

More on Tennessee-Denver:

  • Inclusive of ESPN Deportes, the viewership jumps to 7,730,000 people
  • Denver was the No. 1 local market, drawing a 26.2 local rating combined across KTVD (14.1) and ESPN (12.1). Nashville was the second-rated market with a 17.7 rating across WZTV (9.1) and ESPN (8.6).
  • Other markers include:
    • Seattle-Tacoma (8.5)
    • San Diego (8.2)
    • Kansas City (7.9)
    • San Francisco (7.8)
    • Las Vegas (7.2)
    • Phoenix (7.1)
    • Sacramento & Memphis (6.8)…

…Fox Sports ushered in its 27th season of NFL coverage Sunday with an average of more than 25 million viewers for America’s Game of the Week (AGOTW), combining with Fox’s best Week 1 regional performance in four years to score the network’s most-watched opening week since 2016.

According to Nielsen Media Research, AGOTW, the No. 1 show on TV for 11 consecutive years, scored the most-watched telecast since Super Bowl LIV on Fox in February. The game, pitting Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in Brady’s debut as a Buc, drew an average audience of 25,848,000, up +7% over last year’s Week 1 performance of 24,216,000 viewers.

Fox’s regional games posted their best Week 1 performance since 2016, scoring an average viewership of 13,530,000, up +6% over last year’s 12,723,000 viewers between the Giants and the Cowboys.

On the streaming side, Week 1 accounted for Fox’s most-streamed NFL regular-season Sunday ever — an +84% increase over last year’s opening Sunday with an average minute audience (AMA) of 592,144 across regional and national windows. AGOTW drew an AMA of 647,000 and 3.5 million unique streamers, leading to the network’s most-streamed NFL regular-season window ever. Fox also set a record for its regional windows, with an AMA of 537,000 and 3.8 million unique streamers.

Key highlights are below:

  • AGOTW drew an average audience of 25,848,000 million, up +7% over last year’s Week 1 performance of 24,216,000 viewers
  • Most-watched telecast of any kind since Super Bowl LIV on Fox
  • Fox’s most-watched Week 1 national game since 2016
  • Key demographic ratings increases over 2019 include:
    • A18-34 +8% 6.09 vs. 5.66 rating
    • A18-49 +3% 7.88 vs. 7.62 rating
    • A25-54 +4% 9.41 vs. 9.08 rating

Fox Regional Games

  • Average viewership of 13,530,000, up +6% over last year’s 12,723,000 viewers
  • Fox’s best Week 1 regional performance since 2016…

…Despite the largest fourth-quarter deficit (24 points) in an NFL Kickoff Game in seven years, the Kansas City Chiefs’ 34-20 victory over the Houston Texans in the opening game of the NFL season averaged a preliminary Total Audience Delivery of 20.3 million viewers across NBC TV, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL Digital platforms – making it the most-watched sporting event since Super Bowl LIV in February, according to Fast National data released today by Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

NBC’s TV coverage peaked at 22.0 million viewers between 9:15-9:30 p.m. ET, and topped 20 million viewers in every quarter-hour from 8:45 p.m. ET through 9:45 p.m. ET. The broadcast averaged 19.3 million viewers on NBC.

With 20.3 million viewers, the NFL Kickoff Game is only the second show since the Super Bowl Sunday to average at least 20 million viewers (Academy Awards, 23.6 million on Feb. 9).

The Average Minute Audience (AMA) for Thursday night’s live stream via NBC Sports digital platforms, NFL Digital platforms, Chiefs and Texans mobile properties, and Verizon Media mobile properties was 970,000 viewers – the highest ever for an NBC NFL game, excluding Super Bowls – and up 55% from last year’s NFL Kickoff Game (627,000).

The game (8:28 p.m.-11:05 p.m. ET) registered a national TV household rating of 11.2/23.

Top Metered Markets

  • Kansas City – 47.8/71
  • Houston – 20.6/39
  • Denver – 18.8/36
  • Austin – 17.2/34
  • Indianapolis – 16.8/32
  • Pittsburgh – 16.7/28
  • Baltimore – 16.1/28
  • Philadelphia – 15.9/27
  • Providence – 15.8/28
  • San Antonio & Milwaukee – 15.6/28

Notre Dame on NBC
According to SportsMediaWatch, Saturday’s Duke-Notre Dame college football game averaged a 2.4 rating and 4.32 million viewers on NBC, the team’s second-most watched home opener since 2006 (vs. Penn State: 6.90M). Their primetime home opener against Michigan two years ago averaged 7.09 million.

Ratings jumped 140% and viewership 189% from Notre Dame’s home opener last season against New Mexico (1.0, 1.50M). The game averaged 4.37 million including streaming.

Notre Dame’s win delivered the largest college football audience of the young season, though that comes with the obvious caveat that there have been hardly any games involving prominent teams thus far.

Odds and Ends: Other College Football News, Raptors-Celtics Game 7, League of Legends

In other college football action, ABC averaged a 2.0 and 3.46 million for Clemson-Wake Forest on the season premiere of Saturday Night Football — down 60% in ratings and viewership from a considerably higher-profile LSU-Texas game last year (5.0, 8.65M). Versus the same weekend of 2018, ratings were flat and viewership increased 5% from Penn State-Pittsburgh (2.0, 3.29M).

Clemson’s win had to contend with the previously-mentioned Rockets-Lakers game, eking out a head-to-head win in ratings (2.0 to 1.9) but coming up short in viewership. Again, the NBA game easily won in the young adult demos.

ABC also averaged a 2.0 and 3.52 million for abbreviated coverage of Georgia Tech-FSU, down 50% and 46% respectively from Texas A&M-Clemson last year (4.0, 6.48M). The game was delayed due to inclement weather and moved to ESPN2, averaging a 0.6 and 1.21 million for the conclusion.

Over on Fox, Arkansas State’s upset of Kansas State averaged a 1.1 and 1.79 million in the premiere of Big Noon Saturday — down 64% in ratings and 62% in viewership from Army-Michigan on the same weekend last year (3.1, 4.72M). Ratings and viewership also fell 39% and 38% respectively from UCLA-Oklahoma in 2018 (1.8, 2.90M).

In the same Noon window on ESPN, Louisiana’s upset of Iowa State averaged a 1.0 and 1.68 million — up 25% and 31% respectively from last year (Syracuse-Maryland: 0.8, 1.28M). It joins Duke-Notre Dame as the season’s only windows to increase over last year.

ESPN2 topped out at a 0.31 and 516,000 for Tulane-South Alabama Saturday night, down 31% and 32% respectively from Tulane-Auburn in a similar window last year (0.45, 516K). FS1’s top draw was Eastern Kentucky-West Virginia at a 0.20 (-38%) and 408,000 (-25%).

College Gameday averaged 1.08 million in its road show season debut, down 42% from the same weekend last year (1.88M). That does not include the ESPNU simulcast. (SMW)…

…Friday’s Celtics-Raptors second round NBA playoff Game 7 averaged 4.69 million viewers on TNT, marking the largest audience for any sporting event on cable since the NFL Draft in April. The previous high was 4.65 million for Lakers-Rockets Game 3 on TNT last week.

…Riot Games reported a 70% viewership increase for Sunday’s championship match at the League of Legends European Championship Summer Split playoffs.

G2 Esports’ sweep against Fnatic in the best-of-final reached an average minute audience of 819,400, a 70% jump from the 2019 summer finals.

Riot also said the LEC competition reached a peak concurrent viewership of 952,000, a 16.7% increase from the previous year. (Reuters)