Entering the new NFL season, one of the biggest off-field storylines concerns the league’s television ratings. Last year saw substantial dips in viewership, and the league and its advertisers now wait to see if the decline owed mostly to the chaos surrounding the presidential election or to something more insidious.
Well, ratings are in for the NFL’s opening night, and the results resist easy conclusions. The Chiefs’ 42-27 win over the Patriots clash on NBC drew a 14.6 overnight rating, down around 12 percent from last year and the worst rating the game’s received in years.
NFL Kickoff Overnights:
2017: Chiefs/Pats: 14.6 Irma
2016: Panthers/Broncos: 16.5
2015: Steelers/Pats: 17.7
2014: Packers/Seahawks: 16.8
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) September 8, 2017
In the later fast national ratings, the game recorded a 7.2 in the adults 18-49 demographic, with an 26 share and an estimated 20.81 million viewers. Those will likely adjust up in the end, especially when considering live+same day (the standard used in this Wikipedia entry of NFL kickoff game ratings). However, it definitely looks like this is the lowest-rated kickoff game since at least 2012 (14.7 household rating, 23.9 million live+same day viewers) and maybe since 2009 (12.8 household rating, 20.9 million live+same day viewers).
That said, there were extenuating circumstances here, with Hurricane Irma bearing down on the American southeast and millions of people either forced to evacuate their homes or at least focused on other things.
Fox Sports’ Michael Mulvihill pointed out that cable news and the weather channel drew much better viewership going against the NFL opener this year than in the past two years, suggesting that American attention were directed elsewhere Thursday.
Cable news nets + Weather Channel, NFL opening night, major markets:
— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) September 8, 2017
Obviously, it’s going to be a little while before we can make any sweeping conclusions about whether the NFL’s ratings are back or whether the league is truly in decline. The extra hurricane context here makes it hard to judge what this particular number means in the wider context. And even if this is a larger decline, it’s still very good by the standards of anything else on TV, and advertisers are still flocking to the NFL. With that said, though, the league could probably use some good ratings news some time soon. And it didn’t get it with this kickoff game.