NFL Top 50 Oct 8, 2023; London United Kingdom, The NFL Shield logo at midfield at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was a clean sweep in 2023 for the NFL. All 50 of the most-watched sporting events for the calendar year were NFL games.

Sports Media Watch released its annual list of the most-watched games this week, and the chart was dominated by the NFL. No non-NFL sporting event drew even 20 million viewers in 2023, and only three (all college football games) cracked 15 million. Hell, only 21 non-football sporting events topped ten million viewers, which is considered a rough night for Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football package these days.

Some of the NFL’s dominance this year is due to circumstance. There were zero College Football Playoff semifinals in 2023 – two games took place on New Year’s Eve 2022 and the other two took place on New Year’s Day 2024. Three of those four games cracked the 20 million viewer mark and would have made the 2023 list. Primetime Olympics broadcasts normally make the list, but 2023 wasn’t an Olympic year.

There’s always a chance a late series World Series game can make the lower levels of the list, but this year’s Fall Classic only went five games and drew record-low viewership. The NBA Finals, while not hitting a record-low, also only went five games. The NCAA Tournament title game was also a record-low, and the USWNT crashing out of the Women’s World Cup early (not to mention unfriendly kickoff times for American viewers) ensured no soccer game would make the list.

Looking at the list, it’s not surprising to see playoff games and holiday games in the top half. But it’s still somewhat jarring to see regular Sunday afternoon national windows clobbering *every other sport* in the country. A national Week 3 window highlighted by Bears-Chiefs on Fox was the 35th most-watched sporting event in the country! It’s truly wild.

Sports Media Watch also broke down each sport’s most-watched event in 2023. Most are championship events – the championship games in both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, Game 5 of both the NBA Finals and World Series, and the final round of the Masters.

But some are a bit surprising. The most-watched college football game was actually Ohio State-Michigan on Fox in November, rather than the TCU-Georgia National Championship game in January. The most-watched soccer game of the year was the USWNT’s group stage draw with the Netherlands in July. The most-watched hockey game wasn’t in the Stanley Cup Final at all – it was Game 7 of the Bruins-Panthers first-round series. Both the USFL and XFL had regular season games outdraw their championship games.

2024 should be a bit different with the two College Football Playoff semifinals (and a title game that hopefully won’t be a blowout) taking place this year, along with a full slate of Summer Olympics action being held in a city in a more favorable time zone (Paris). The NFL will still dominate the 2024 list, but maybe it will only nab 45 or so of the top spots rather than all 50.

[Sports Media Watch]

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.