Christmas Day NFL games aren’t a tradition on par with Thanksgiving (yet), but based on viewership for this year’s two games, they might get to that point sooner rather than later.
A whopping 28.588 million people watched the Christmas Day game between the Browns and Packers on Fox and NFL Network, this season’s second-largest audience (behind just the Raiders-Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game on CBS). Considering the game started at 4:30 PM ET on a Saturday, the league will take that every day of the week. Last year’s Christmas Day game, Vikings-Saints, drew 20.111 million viewers on the same two networks.
The success wasn’t contained to the early game, either. The second half of the doubleheader aired only on NFL Network, and started at 8:15 PM ET. The Colts-Cardinals matchup drew 12.624 million viewers, good for the second most-watched NFL Network exclusive game ever.
It’ll be interesting to see what the strategy from the NFL is next season, since Christmas Day is a Sunday. In 2016, the last NFL season where Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, the full schedule was moved to Saturday, aside from a pair of games on Sunday and one apiece on Thursday and Monday. Something similar will probably happen again next year, but maybe the NFL will look at the success of this year’s pair of games and expand the slate to a three-game tripleheader.
As for the NBA, its traditional slate of Christmas Day games averaged 4.1 million viewers across ABC and ESPN, the lowest average for the league since the Christmas schedule expanded to five games in 2008. Those two strong NFL audiences, along with COVID protocols taking several top players out of action, clearly had significant impacts on the viewership for those games.