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Despite bad matchups and lousy results, Thursday Night Football viewership climbs by 10 percent

Last year, nobody was surprised when NFL Network's Thursday Night Football ratings skyrocketed. After all, it was the first year in which all of the country's major cable providers were carrying the league-owned channel. With Time-Warner subscribers on board, more eyeballs than ever were watching NFL Network every Thursday night in the fall. 

But how do you explain a 10 percent rise in 2013? 

From a league press release: 

Including the audience from over-the-air broadcasts in local markets, NFL Network’s 13-game schedule of Thursday Night Football broadcasts finished with a record-high per game average audience of 8 million viewers in 2013, up 10% from 2012, marking the fifth consecutive year that Thursday Night Football has set an all-time high viewership mark for NFL Network.

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For the season, Thursday Night Football on NFL Network averaged a 5.0 US HH rating (including OTA’s) – another record for the network – a 9% increase from the 2012 season. Each week of the 2013 Thursday Night Football schedule, NFL Network’s game telecast was the day’s most-watched program on cable television.

It just goes to show — again — how popular this damn league continues to be. Because, frankly, Thursday Night Football sucks. The matchups are weak and the games are sloppier than usual, thanks mainly to the quick turnaround both teams are forced to deal with. 

Since the start of 2012, Thursday games have featured 6 percent more turnovers and two percent fewer points than Sunday games. Quarterbacks have completed 61.1 percent of their passes on Sundays but only 59.8 on Thursdays. It's not jaw-dropping, but it looks worse than the numbers would indicate. 

Plus, because the league guarantees that every team will play on Thursday at least once, we've been "treated" to matchups like Jacksonville-Houston, Indianapolis-Tennessee, Minnesota-Washington, Bears-Giants and Cleveland-Buffalo. 

The players don't like Thursday Night Football and the media doesn't like Thursday Night Football, but the fans haven't stopped watching. In fact, more of them are tuning in every year. And let's be real: For the NFL, that's priority No. 1. 

The value of that Thursday night package continues to grow at a baffling rate, which just means it'll eventually be sold to a network for a billion dollars. 

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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