NFL ratings on average have trended downward in recent years and everyone loves to give their reason why that is. As the NFL season begins, the league is looking to rebound from a tumultuous offseason that included going back and forth about having a national anthem policy which they ultimately decided not to implement this year.
Sunday overnight ratings were released and the numbers will benefit whatever argument you have that the NFL is either dying or that it’s as popular as ever depending on what numbers you use.
In a classic case of deciding whether to get the bad news or the good news first, let’s start with the bad news. According to Sports Media Watch, the Bears-Packers game from Sunday night got a 14.4 rating and was down nine percent from NBC’s Week 1 game in 2017 (Giants-Cowboys) and down three percent from the 2016 opener (Cardinals-Patriots). Considering last year’s game was Giants-Cowboys, I can cut NBC some slack here. Bears-Packers was awesome and provided a great comeback but having the Giants and the Cowboys is kinda like fishing with dynamite when it comes to big ratings. Not much is going to top that. Thursday night’s game between the Falcons and Eagles was down eight percent compared to last year but the start was delayed by rain and affected ratings. Both broadcasts easily won the ratings battle among networks those nights.
Fox’s national broadcast for Week 1 stayed about the same, with a one tenth of a ratings point increase this year over last year. The Cowboys-Panthers game got a 15.7 rating and was just slightly above the 15.6 rating for Seahawks-Packers. Despite the small rise and any improvement over last year is great, this has to be a bit of a letdown because a game that featured the Cowboys didn’t get much of a ratings bump.
Now, let’s get to the good news. Both CBS and Fox saw rises in regional broadcasts on Sunday. CBS, who had a single game this week, registered a 10.6 overnight rating, a 23 percent rise over Week 1 last year (due to Hurricane Irma) but had a four percent rise over 2016. CBS had singleheaders in Week 1 the past three years. Fox had a 8.8 rating for their regional coverage, up five percent over 2017 but was down 19 percent over the year before.
The tough part about comparing ratings over past years is that it’s never a perfect comparison. There are different matchups and different situations that could affect the final number and that could be the difference between believing the NFL is a dying or thriving sport. Like most things, people will pick and choose the information that best fits their argument and technically no one will be wrong. There’s more than what meets the eye in the numbers.