Here are two things that are both unquestionably true:
- The NFL’s television ratings are headed in the wrong direction, having dropped in 2017 for the second straight year.
- The NFL is still the most popular programming on television, with million of viewers loyally watching big games.
Those two truths were evident once again Monday upon the announcement of overnight ratings for the two conference championship games played Sunday.
The AFC title game, between the Patriots and the Jaguars, pulled a 27.3 overnight rating on CBS, down slightly but essentially flat from last year’s early-window conference championship (Packers-Falcons), and down 14 percent from the 2016 game in that slot (Patriots-Broncos). Based on overnights, it was the lowest-rated AFC Championship since 2015 and the lowest-rated early-window conference title game since 2013.
However, Pats-Jags was (unsurprisingly) the highest-rated show on television since last year’s Super Bowl, topping the Academy Awards last March.
Over on Fox, a Vikings-Eagles matchup was never going to be a ratings home run, and it couldn’t have hurt that the game quickly became a blowout. That game drew a 24.7 overnight rating, down 11 percent from last year’s late-window contest (Patriots-Steelers) and down 8 percent from 2016’s clash (Cardinals-Panthers). It was the lowest rated NFC title game since 2009, and the lowest rated late-window conference championship since 2015.
Eagles-Vikings was still Fox’s highest-rated program since last year’s Super Bowl.
The dip in ratings this weekend comes after regular-season NFL ratings were down just shy of 10 percent, Wild Card weekend ratings were down double-digits and Divisional round ratings were down substantially as well. The reasons for the ratings drop have been discussed ad nauseum and aren’t worth arguing about once again, though the relatively Jaguars-Patriots rating flies in the face of the “people are sick of the Patriots’ dominance” narrative.
That said, at least part of the so-so ratings for the conference championship games can be simply attributed to the teams and players involved. Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles aren’t exactly the marquee quarterbacks that the NFL has often relied on to draw massive viewership.
The good news for the NFL is that the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl (airing Feb. 4 on NBC) will feature large markets with passionate fan bases. After a postseason full of ratings declines, a season-ending uptick is not out of the question.