The 2019 NFL regular season wound up being quite the bounce-back one for networks. Following regular season ratings declines in 2016 and 2017 and a slight recovery last year, the league saw a further recovery this year. Earlier this week, we covered how ESPN’s Monday Night Football posted an eight percent year-over-year rise and its best numbers since 2015; the numbers are now in for CBS, Fox, and NBC, and they all also saw growth this year and the best numbers since 2015 (NBC) and 2016 (Fox and CBS).
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) December 31, 2019
.@NFLonFOX rings in the new year with its best regular-season viewership since 2016! 🎊
🇺🇸 AMERICA'S GAME OF THE WEEK +10%
🏈 FOX NFL KICKOFF +3%
⬆️ FOX NFL SUNDAY +6%https://t.co/2vFhNmo6Ca
— FOX Sports PR (@FOXSportsPR) December 31, 2019
— CBS Sports PR (@CBSSportsGang) December 30, 2019
NFL Network saw a decline for its games, but there weren’t a lot of those games relative to the other networks, so the overall picture is a rise:
NFL viewership was up 5% across the board for 2019 season (16.498 million viewers vs. 15.759 million). CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN each post solid gains. Despite a Week 16 Saturday tripleheader helping NFL Network to its best day ever, the network was down 8% for season for game coverage
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) December 31, 2019
That bodes very well for the NFL’s upcoming rights negotiations, which a network executive recently estimated could lead to annual revenues of $8-10 billion (up from the current $5.2 billion for broadcast/satellite deals, or $5.7 billion if you count streaming deals). And that’s especially true with respect to the rest of TV, which continues to struggle relative to sports. The NFL’s an area of TV where there’s still not only a big audience, but an audience that watches live (and thus views commercials).
Beyond the revenue from running external ads, having NFL games can be vital in carriage negotiations (something we saw ratchet up this year) and in promoting the rest of your network’s programming. With NFL ratings on the rise again this year, the league’s perceived value is in good shape heading into these rights talks.