With NFL TV numbers being released, it gave not just the league but also its television partners a chance to boast, brag, and crow about their fantastic, superhuman ratings. With the league providing the unquestioned top television property in America, Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN can all tout their high ratings, record numbers, and impressive viewership figures to the rest of the media world. Spinning rating numbers is one of the central pillars in the dark arts of public relations, and the latest NFL facts and figures led to a brief yet delicious passive-aggressive skirmish between Fox and NBC earlier this week.
For the third year in a row, NBC's Sunday Night Football reigns as the #1 show in all of primetime television for the fall with an average of 21.4 million viewers. Last year, SNF topped primetime for the entire year with 21.5 million viewers and should do so again this season. SNF is the first sports franchise to be the most watched show in primetime. You can discover more about NBC's pride and joy in this release.
Not to be outdone, Fox sent their own release pumping the NFL on Fox "juggernaut." Fox averaged 19.7 million viewers for their 2012 NFL coverage, tied for the second best viewership in their history. Fox also touted their 4 PM ET national window, dubbed "America's Game of the Week," as the most watched show in all of television with 24.8 million viewers. Fox PR rep Dan Bell let his competitors at NBC and CBS know about it, which led to the rare sight of two PR outlets exchanging "pleasantries"…
The @nflonfox America's Game of The Week beat NBC's Sunday Night Football by +16% this season and will beat CBS' Nat'l Game by at least 5%
— Dan Bell (@danpbell) January 3, 2013
— Dan Bell (@danpbell) January 3, 2013
Congrats to our friends @nflonfox, No. 1 across Sun afternoon "windows." We r happy to be No. 1 in prime again. Real winner is NFL and fans
— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) January 3, 2013
I don't envy anyone who works in public relations as it's not an easy job to always be selling what your network is delivering. But count me as all for this very brief departure from the Always Sunny PR World and doing battle over network supremacy, even if it's silliness over semantics.
NBC has the prestigious claim of being the number one show in primetime, where competition is at its peak. Also, NBC broadcasts a single national game to the entire nation every week instead of multiple games Fox and CBS broadcast. (The better comparison is Fox to CBS, but Fox should have higher ratings than CBS because they have to pay more for the NFC package, so the braggadociousness there is just a little hollow.) Yes, Fox does have higher viewership numbers for the #1 show in all of television, but the 4 PM window is actually multiple games around the country with one reserved for most of the nation (which is why you see the quote marks from NBC). Also, Fox has the advantage of a smaller sample size alternating nationally televised windows with CBS.
In the end, both sides are right. As far as winning the messaging battle and what really matters, NBC's Sunday Night Football is an overall better product than Fox's NFL coverage, no matter how many rings broadcasters like Tony Siragusa and Terry Bradshaw have. In fact, SNF is probably the best single game product on television from announcing to graphics to the studio to production. But… Fox has six to eight broadcasts in a week whereas NBC can pour all their resources into one game. If you directly compare Fox's top national broadcast with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, it would stand up fairly close to Sunday Night Football in terms of overall quality. Again, it's all about which way you want to spin it.
Bottom line: each of the four major sports networks – CBS, NBC, Fox, and ESPN have a very valuable piece of the sumptuous NFL pie. So why can't we all just get along?