NFL viewership Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens Oct 29, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) warms up prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL season has been white hot for the league and its media partners, with the league hitting an eight-year viewership high and viewership increasing for all media partners through nine weeks.

Overall, the NFL is averaging 17.2 million viewers per game window this season, a 7% increase from last year and the best mark since 2015 (via the Sports Business Journal).

NBC’s package of Sunday Night Football (along with the Week 1 Thursday kickoff) games leads the way with an average of 22 million viewers, the network’s best viewership through nine weeks ever, and an 8% increase from last season. SNF has a couple of lemons in the next couple of weeks with Jets-Raiders and Vikings-Broncos but closes strong with Chiefs-Packers, Eagles-Cowboys, and Ravens-Jaguars in December.

CBS is averaging 18.1 million viewers per game so far this season, which is the network’s best mark for the NFL since 2015. Its national windows are averaging 24.1 million, as mentioned earlier this week. In its game of the week windows the rest of the way, CBS has Jets-Bills in Week 11, Bills-Eagles in Week 12, and Bills-Chiefs in Week 14.

Fox follows closely behind with an average of 17.6 million viewers for its package of games, a slight 1% increase from last season. Its national windows are also slightly trailing CBS, averaging 23.5 million viewers (another 1% increase from 2022). In its game of the week window in coming weeks, Fox has Giants-Cowboys in Week 10, 49ers-Eagles in Week 13, and Cowboys-Bills in Week 15.

Thanks to its weekly ABC simulcasts, ESPN’s Monday Night Football package is up 14% this year to an average of 15.4 million viewers. The rest of the MNF schedule is highlighted by Eagles-Chiefs in Week 11, Bengals-Jaguars in Week 13, Ravens-49ers in Week 16, and Lions-Cowboys in Week 17.

Amazon’s package of Thursday Night Football games on Prime Video has famously been up double digits every week this season, sitting at an average of 12.7 million viewers through nine weeks. That’s a 25% increase from the streamer’s average through its first eight games last year. After Week 10’s stinker between the Panthers and Bears, Prime Video has Bengals-Ravens in Week 11, Dolphins-Jets on Black Friday in Week 12, and Seahawks-Cowboys in Week 13.

Even NFL Network’s slim package of games is surging this season. The league-owned network has aired three international morning games this season, averaging 6.1 million viewers so far for the package. That’s up 25% from a year ago, with two games (Colts-Patriots this Sunday and Patriots-Broncos in primetime on Christmas Eve) left.

Perhaps the wildest part about the NFL’s viewership increase is that we’ve come full circle over the last eight years. Back in 2016, there were a plethora of stories about the NFL’s viewership decline and the possible reasons for the drop. Since bottoming out in 2017 with an average of 14.9 million viewers per game, viewership has steadily increased in the years since to the point where “best since 2015” comparisons are quite common.

In hindsight, the 2015 season really was the end of one era of star quarterbacks. Peyton Manning retired after the season. Tony Romo officially closed the book on his career after 2016, but was essentially done after the 2014 season. Cam Newton won the MVP in 2015 and never came close to those heights again. Carson Palmer lasted two more unsatisfying years before retiring. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger all stuck around for several more seasons with varying results.

Those quarterbacks have been succeeded by a new breed in 2023. Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Russell Wilson are holdovers from that era, but none (aside from the injured Rodgers) are box office draws. We’re now talking about young stud quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa, and, of course, Patrick Mahomes. They’ve propelled their teams into the spotlight, while also dialing back the national appeal of previous box office draws like the Broncos, Patriots, and Saints. After the 2015 season, it took time for these quarterbacks to emerge, with several top QB picks in the 2016-19 drafts simply not developing into the major stars and draws expected.

But all of these years later, the NFL is finally in that next era of star quarterbacks and the viewers have come along for the ride.

[Data via Sports Business Journal]

About Joe Lucia

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