nfl ratings-monday night football ratings-sunday night football ratings

Sunday Night Football viewership took a tumble in 2017, falling to its lowest level since 2008. But in a testament to the primacy of the NFL and the troubles of the television industry, SNF still rated as the most-watched primetime show in America. In fact, its lead over its closest competitors actually grew from previous years.

According to NBC, Sunday Night Football had its most dominant season ever in terms of both average viewership and household ratings. As the following charts show, substantial distance separated SNF and runners-up Thursday Night Football, Big Bang Theory, and NCIS.

Top Fall 2017 Primetime Programs, Viewership

Program Avg. Viewers SNF Advantage
Sunday Night Football 18.2 million
CBS Thursday Night Football* 14.1 million 29%
Big Bang Theory 14.037 million 30%
NBC Thursday Night Football**    14.036 million 30%
NCIS 13.0 million 40%

Top Fall 2017 Primetime Programs, U.S. HH Rating

Program U.S. HH Rating    SNF Advantage
Sunday Night Football 10.3
CBS Thursday Night Football* 8.6 20%
Big Bang Theory 8.4 23%
NBC Thursday Night Football**     8.1 27%
NCIS 8.0 29%

If these numbers hold through the end of the 2017-18 TV year, Sunday Night Football will be television’s No. 1 primetime show for the seventh consecutive year, besting American Idol’s record for longest such run.

The fact SNF could lose viewers but actually increase its stranglehold on the industry is evidence that the NFL’s ratings problems owe more to issues affecting the TV industry at large (i.e. cord-cutting) than to issues specific to football (e.g. head injuries, protests). If the NFL isn’t slipping any faster than everyone else, it’s tough to argue that the league’s unique problems are greatly affecting viewership.

Of course, this reality won’t necessarily save the NFL when its rights deals run up a few years from now. Advertisers pay for eyeballs, not eyeballs above average, and being the most popular product on a struggling medium is obviously not as good as being the most popular product on a thriving medium.

But regardless of the long-term implications for NBC and the NFL, SNF’s rating relative to the field offers a strong reminder that even as the NFL struggles, it remains head and shoulders above everyone else.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • Respected Citizen

    Advertisers pay for eyeballs, not eyeballs above average

    Except that they do. Despite the heavy decline in viewership, primetime ad rates have barely fallen at all in adjusted dollars: “In the mid-1990s, the average 30-second prime time network television advertising spot cost about $100,000. These same spots on a top-rated series average about $325,000, and such spots on low-rated network prime time programs average, about $50,000.”

    The price of a 30-second spot on SNF in 2016 was around $673,000 — 12% higher than in 2015. NFL ratings were down 5% in September 2017 year-to-year, but ad rates were up 7%.

    Also important is the number of advertisers who want these spots. When the bottom fell out of the Fan Duel & Draft Kings market, there was a dip in average NFL ad rates. The decline of retail may push down the ad rates next season.

  • Walt_Gekko

    This is why I see NBC’s Entertainment division demand the NFL give NBC an extra game next season to make up for the loss of the final Sunday nighter this season (that I suspect would be on Thanksgiving Eve and coupled with the proposed fifth London game next year being on “Black Friday” (Nov. 23) so the NFL can give that to ESPN in place of a Week 16 game on Christmas Eve). It’s also why I see the NFL starting next year doing what most pro sports leagues worldwide do, in this case have all games in one conference at 3:00 PM ET and all games in the other conference at 7:00 PM ET, with all games the final Sunday divided up equally between ALL of the NFL’s broadcast partners and giving NBC a new, Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game that would be tied to the Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Plaza that likely would be the most watched regular season game of the year solely because of more casual fans and non-football fans watching to see the tree lighting that would be at halftime of that game.

    • StoJa

      I see literally none of that happening. Ever.

      • sowhat2015Brian O’Neill

        This Gekko guy was basically kicked off of ‘The 506 Forums’ for littering the boards with these nonsensical and convoluted suggestions, proposals, and other anally-extracted ‘nuggets of wisdom’. He never interacts directly with anyone, so don’t expect him to acknowledge a ‘real world’ viewpoint.

        • Racing Fan

          C’mon, you don’t think Beth Mowins doing Sunday Night Baseball with just Jessica Mendoza is a good idea? That was his best ever suggestion.

          • StoJa

            You’re kidding….

        • Walt_Gekko

          The guy who runs that forum was doing so in censorship. Maybe HE and some of the others didn’t like it, but as one who has run forums as well, ruling with a heavy hand usually comes back to bite you (Television Without Pity is probably the best example of this, their mods were so heavy-handed it caused the site to eventually shut down).

          • StoJa

            Ruling with a heavy hand? Settle down, King George.

          • sowhat2015Brian O’Neill

            Uh, no, the guy who runs 506 got rid of you because your posts were ‘TL;DR’, and of interest to no one other than yourself. What time should they schedule the Super Bowl again, that would be most convenient for viewers on Guam?

          • Walt_Gekko

            Like I said, he is the exception. Almost every other forum that practices that level of censorship has gone done completely with Television Without Pity (which was a MASSIVE site and WAY bigger than his) the biggest of those that did.

      • Walt_Gekko

        Well, I would think NBC would want a makeup game for losing the Sunday night finale, even if it was New Year’s Eve. In this case, a game on Wednesday 11/28 tied to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting makes sense because that would probably be the most watched game of the regular season, part of why I would add an additional week with all teams getting a second bye tied to mid-week games.

        • StoJa

          I don’t know a human being alive on this planet that has watched the fucking Christmas tree lighting. Are you serious?

          The SUPER BOWL is on NBC. I think they’ll be ok.

          • Walt_Gekko

            The Christmas Tree Lighting in Rockefeller Plaza has done well enough that it has aired on NBC for two decades. Tying it to a Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game I think would have that game be the most watched of the regular season because of many people who don’t care about football tuning in to see the tree lighting that would be an expanded halftime.

  • noonan18

    I don’t see a whole lot of good tv on Sunday nights, so I’m not sure that this is as wonderful a thing as they are making it out to be.

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