In what should be considered good news, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football premiere drew 6.68 million viewers this week, per ShowBuzz Daily. That number is (barely) up from 2019’s TNF premiere on NFL Network. The Buccaneers-Panthers matchup a year ago drew 6.64 million viewers, per Sports Media Watch.
This viewership is somewhat encouraging for the NFL, given that the Bengals-Browns matchup this year had quite limited appeal, given that both teams are located in Ohio and there wasn’t much national attraction to the game. However, quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield went to LSU and Oklahoma respectively, which could have drawn viewers from those fanbases. The game, aired on local broadcast stations in both the Cleveland and Cincinnati markets.
UPDATE: The viewership increases to 7.2 million when streaming is included.
Bengals-Browns on 'Thursday Night Football' wins the night on TV!
Total viewership 7.2 million (TV + Digital) — up 3% vs. 2019 Week 2
Digital streaming on NFL O&O and Verizon platforms AMA 522K — highest ever for @nflnetwork EXCLUSIVE
Release: https://t.co/VIcTzTGPWx pic.twitter.com/EdNTuJbM8T
— NFL Media (@NFLMedia) September 18, 2020
There was also some live sports competition for the game in the form of Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics NBA Eastern Conference Finals and Game 6 of the Lightning-Islanders NHL Eastern Conference Finals. Miami’s comeback win drew 3.48 million viewers on ESPN, while Tampa Bay’s overtime victory drew 1.18 million viewers on NBCSN. Last year’s TNF Week 2 game only had live sports competition through a national Fox MLB window, which averaged 1.75 million viewers. However, last year’s game was also delayed by weather, and also had the misfortune of going up against a Democratic debate on ABC, which drew 12.93 million viewers.
Next week on TNF (again airing only on NFL Network), we have another regionalized matchup with Dolphins-Jaguars. The viewership bar will be set even lower than this week’s was: last year’s Week 3 TNF matchup was Titans-Jaguars, which drew just 6.32 million viewers.