The 2020 NFL season started on a down note for NBC.
We’re not going to be intellectually dishonest each week with our NFL viewership posts, so we’ll note that while a double digit drop is disappointing, the NFL’s opener faced unprecedented competition. Last year’s opener had minimal live sports competition. The US Open on ESPN aired on ESPN and drew 1.866 million viewers, per ShowBuzz Daily. Last night’s game went head to head with Game 4 of the Rockets-Lakers series on TNT, Game 3 of the Golden Knights-Stars series on NBCSN, and the US Open on ESPN. Viewership for those events (and the rest of cable) are not in yet, and we’ll update this post when we learn what they drew.
(UPDATE: The NBA drew 2.496 million viewers, the NHL drew 790,000 viewers, and tennis drew 1.545 million viewers, all per ShowBuzz Daily)
Also of note: out of home viewership, expected to provide something of a bump to NFL viewership this year (even with most bars and restaurants across the country having reduced capacities), is not included in these numbers. If anything, it provides a more like to like comparison to viewership to last year’s Kickoff matchup.
(UPDATE: Out of home viewership resulted in a tick up in the total viewership to an average of 21.5 million, including streaming)
Another somewhat interesting tidbit in NBC’s release: viewership peaked with 22 million viewers in the 9:15 PM quarter hour, less than an hour after kickoff. What this tells me is that a whole lot of fans were in fact turned off by the game’s non-competitive nature as opposed to (choose whatever narrative best fits your agenda).
As for what this means for the rest of Week 1, the early Sunday window will go head to head with a potential Game 6 of the Clippers-Nuggets series on ESPN, while Game 4 of the Lightning-Islanders series starts on NBC near the end of the early window and will bleed into the late window. That late window will also go head to head with the Men’s Final of the US Open on ESPN, though the lack of household names in that final probably means it won’t represent a significant hurdle. All this means is that the competition excuse won’t fly in the event of another viewership drop.
Last year, Week 1 was up in every window aside from the CBS singleheader. This year, the Cowboys (always a strong ratings draw) play on Sunday night rather than the late Fox window, though Fox does have the Saints (another strong ratings draw) and Bucs (who have the Tom Brady factor this season) in that window this year. CBS also has a somewhat better schedule, highlighted by the new-look Patriots (who played on Sunday Night Football a year ago), while Fox also adds the Packers to their early window.