The year of down NFL ratings has continued into the playoffs, and that’s true overall for Sunday’s championship games, even though one posted a slight increase. The Nielsen overnight ratings had the early window Falcons-Packers NFC championship game (on Fox) at a 27.4 and the late window Patriots-Steelers AFC championship game (on CBS) at a 27.6. Last year, the AFC had the early window, with Patriots-Broncos pulling a 31.8 on CBS, and the late window Panthers-Cardinals game only drew a 26.8 on Fox.
So, regardless of if you slice it by conference or by window, that’s one slight gain and one substantial decrease. It adds up to a loss of 13.8 per cent and a gain of 2.9 per cent by window, or a loss of 13.3 per cent and a gain of 2.2 per cent by conference. That means that eight of ten playoff games so far have been down year-over-year (with the only exceptions being the NFC championship and last week’s Packers-Cowboys divisional round game). Or, if you just add the two championship game ratings, you get 58.6 last year and 55 this year, a drop of 6.1 per cent.
It should be noted that this year was probably better than last year from a TV market standpoint, too. The Patriots and Steelers were third and fourth in national-window TV ratings this year (two of the only three AFC teams in the top 10), and the Packers were fifth, with the Falcons (23rd) the only dud in the bunch. That’s a combined total of 35; using that same list for last year’s championship game contestants produces third (Patriots), eighth (Broncos), 14th (Panthers) and 16th (Cardinals), a combined total of 41. Thus, if everything else had been equal, you’d expect higher ratings this year.
There is some important context to these numbers, though. Last year saw extraordinarily high ratings for Patriots-Broncos, bolstered by an East Coast snowstorm that made going out unappealing, by yet another Brady-Manning showdown, and by an extremely close game. This year’s games were both blowouts (Panthers-Cardinals last year was also a blowout), which always reduces ratings, and they didn’t have as appealing storylines.
With last year being above the norm thanks to that Patriots-Broncos storyline, game, and weather, it’s worth looking a little further back. If we go back to 2015 (which saw a 24.2 for a Colts-Patriots blowout, the lowest for any championship game since 2009, plus a 29.1 for the Seahawks’ comeback win against the Packers), we see a combined total rating of 53.3, below this year’s 55.
So, the 2017 ratings actually look good by comparison there, and they’re certainly not disastrous overall. However, they do continue the season-long trend of NFL ratings being below what they were last year. The NFL’s still the biggest ratings behemoth out there, and everyone else would love to have these numbers, but it’s worth noting that they’re not as great as we’ve seen recently.