The NFL continues to be the biggest ratings behemoth out there, and 2015 was an incredible year for it. The NFL on CBS posted its highest viewership in 29 years (19.1 million viewers on average), while the NFL on Fox notched its second-highest viewership ever (20.745 million viewers on average), Thursday Night Football across CBS and NFLN posted 13 million viewers on average (the best we’ve seen for that package), and even ESPN pulled in 12.1 million for Monday Night Football despite a rough schedule. However, NBC’s Sunday Night Football topped them all, averaging 22.5 million viewers. That’s its highest-rated season ever, and it has SNF on pace to be TV’s top-rated prime-time show for a fifth straight year, one of only four shows since 1950 to achieve that distinction.
What’s particularly notable there is that Sunday Night Football didn’t just sneak into that top-rated spot, it dominated it. The 22.5 million viewers it received on average put it 28 per cent ahead of the number-two show, which was the eight Thursday Night Football games on CBS (17.6 million). The top scripted show was NCIS, pulling in 16.3 million and taking third overall, with The Big Bang Theory posting 15.7 million for fourth. So the NFL is not only more popular than anything else on television, it’s staggeringly more so. It draws in the younger demographics advertisers want, too; SNF also won the 18-49 demo with an 8.0, while The Walking Dead was second with a 6.7. No wonder the ratings for the NFL-carrying networks would look staggeringly different without pro football.
It should also be noted that Sunday Night Football wasn’t even the NFL’s consistently highest-rated timeslot. That would be the late-afternoon timeslot, which was split across Fox and CBS: Fox pulled in 26.8 million viewers on average for its nine broadcasts of “America’s Game Of The Week.” CBS doesn’t seem to differentiate between its timeslots, but it’s a safe bet that it did well with that late slot too.
Overall, these ratings suggest that the NFL is still a growing behemoth. Despite domestic violence scandals, Deflategate, Concussion and more, nothing seems to slow down its ratings. If the league can post these kind of numbers in a year where it was under siege on multiple fronts, what will happen if it ever gets its house in order?