The NFL has an extraordinary hold on America’s media regime

The NFL had a record-breaking season in terms of viewership and engagement, thanks in large part to fans returning to stadiums, a slew of thriller games, and of course, off-field drama.

Why is this important: The 2021 viewership spike eased concerns about the COVID-related decline in 2020, while also vindicating the more than $100 billion in media deals the league signed with its partners in March.

By the numbers: The NFL’s 2021 regular season viewership was up 10% from 2020, its highest-rated season average since 2015, according to Nielsen.

  • The NFL accounted for 41 of the 50 most-watched shows of 2021, per Sportico (subscription), and 75 of the top 100.
  • Games averaged 17.1 million viewers (TV/digital), per league, and 370 billion total minutes were consumed, up 18% from 2020 and the second highest total since 2015 .
  • Increased interest in games has been a boon for pre-game broadcasts, according to Sports Business Journal. NBC’s “Football Night in America”, for example, averaged 7.1 million viewers, an 18% increase from 2020.

Between the lines: A few close games and an extended season may have helped boost viewership, and the return of fans to the stands has improved television product.

  • A record 34 games were decided in the final game, and 64% of games were within eight points (one score) in the fourth quarter.
  • 2021 was the first 17-game season in NFL history, with the league adding an extra 18th week to the schedule.

Zoom out: Online, the NFL was the second most read news topic in November and December. It was trailing the coronavirus, but ahead of Joe Biden and Donald Trump, by page views data from Taboola.

  • Interest then took off in the first weekend of January – well above previous months, according to Taboola data – as the Week 17 roster included seven teams clinching playoff berths, soccer championships Fantasy and the Dramatic Exit of Antonio Brown.
  • Google search interest in the league reached a season-long peak last Sunday when the playoff field was hammered, culminating in a spectacular Raiders-Chargers finish with millions looking for more. a tie.

The big picture: It’s a good time for the NFL, which is looking to renegotiate its Sunday Ticket rights package this year, while exploring strategic partners for some of its media networks, like NFL Network and RedZone.

What to watch: Sports executives don’t expect NBC to see the same dramatic viewership declines for this year’s Super Bowl as last year, when viewership fell to its lowest television level in 10 years.

  • The Super Bowl is generally considered a ratings success if more than 100 million people watch it live.
  • Last year’s game was watched by 96.4 million viewers, although the broadcast broke records as the most live streamed NFL game of all time.

The bottom line: Although the pandemic lingers, the NFL has clearly benefited from the semi-return to normal in 2021. Packed stadiums have garnered more mainstream interest and fans have returned to their weekly routine of watching games on Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays).

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