The Olympics had a big effect on NFL preseason viewership in 2016. Viewership was way off from 2015’s 3.2 million average. So with that in mind, 2017 had nowhere to go, but up. And it did. With the 2017 NFL preseason over, the games on CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and NFL Network averaged 2.6 million viewers. Compared to 2016, that’s up 13% from that year’s 2.3 million.
But it’s down 20% from 2015. There are a couple of encouraging notes for the networks. Sports Media Watch says in some cases without the Olympics, the NFL TV partners increased their viewership:
Of the 15 games that aired on the same network and in the same window as last year, nine posted increases in ratings and viewership. In seven of those nine instances, last year’s comparable game faced the Olympics.
So in most cases, the networks did better without having the Olympics as competition. But there are two examples of lower ratings this year. Tampa Bay-Jacksonville on ESPN on August 17 averaged a 1.6 rating. That was the worst rating for a preseason game on national TV (NFL Network excluded) dating back to 2005. Then on August 26, CBS received a 1.4 rating for the Los Angeles Chargers-Los Angeles Rams. That was the worst rating for a preseason game dating back to 2004.
And when the NFL preseason ended last week, a doubleheader on NFL Network finished much lower than last year. Rams-Green Bay received a 0.47 rating and 707,000 viewership, off 31% in ratings and 29% in viewership from Patriots-Giants in 2016. And the Seattle-Oakland matchup ended the night with a 0.4 rating and 607,000 viewers, down 29% in both ratings and viewership from the same matchup last year.
Does this mean anything for the upcoming season? No, but as we reported last week, there’s one theory that President Trump could affect the numbers, but we won’t know that until the games begin for real.