The NFL playoffs start this weekend with two wild-card games
on NBC and one game each on Fox and CBS. Last year's wild-card weekend drew a
total of about 124 million viewers, while the 10 playoff games on the broadcast
networks leading up to the Super Bowl drew a total of nearly 375 million
Any advertiser wanting to reach a mass audience that
includes not only harder-to-reach men but also lots of women should be locked
in with their ad units by now. While this weekend's games are likely sold out,
it won't hurt to have media buyers check on last-minute avails, if not for this
weekend, than for the next two.
Last year in the wild-card playoff round, NBC drew about 54
million for its two games on opening round Saturday. On that Sunday, Fox drew
27.7 million for its 1 p.m. Sunday game between the New York Giants and Atlanta
Falcons and CBS drew 42.3 million for its 4:30 p.m. game between the
Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos-and yes, that was the game that Tim
Tebow led Denver to an upset victory over the Steelers. Seems like a billion
years ago. But this year's 4:30 p.m. game on Fox will pit the surprising
Seattle Seahawks with its rookie quarterback Russell Wilson against the
Washington Redskins and its rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Viewership
for that game could surpass the 42.3 million for the comparable game on CBS
last year, especially with curious fans tuning in to see RG3 at work.
Ratings for the playoff games usually grow over the following
two weekends leading out of the wild-card games. The AFC championship game last
year on CBS, which began at 3 p.m. on Sunday with the New England Patriots
defeating the Baltimore Ravens, drew 48.6 million viewers. The NFC championship
began at 6:30, with the New York Giants beating the San Francisco 49ers in
overtime; it drew 57.6 million viewers.
The NFL is still the hottest game in the country and the
biggest draw on television. While regular season viewership was down on both
NBC and Fox in the fourth quarter, it wasn't down much. Viewership for NBC's Sunday Night Football telecasts averaged
21.4 million viewers, just a hair down from 21.5 million per game for the
previous season. And for the third straight year, SNF was the fourth quarter's top-ranked primetime show in total
viewers and adults 18-49. And Fox averaged 19.7 million viewers for its Sunday
daytime games, down just 2% from the previous season's 20.1 million.
While the playoff viewership averages from last year listed
above include many repeat viewers for each of the games, the NFL has released
some Nielsen data based on the just-ended regular season that showed 200
million unique viewers. That means 80% of all TV homes and 69% of potential TV
viewers in the U.S. watched NFL games this past regular season.
NFL games also accounted for 31 of the 32 most watched TV
shows among all programming in fourth quarter. And for the first time ever, an
NFL game was the week's most-watched TV show in all 17 weeks of the season. The
only non-football program to make the top 32 was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC, which drew 22.4 million to
rank 23rd. The most-watched regular season NFL game was the Dec. 30 Sunday Night Football game between the
Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys on NBC, which drew 30.3 million viewers.
Next was the Redskins-Cowboys game on Thanksgiving night on Fox, which drew
28.7 million viewers.
On the cable side, ESPN and NFL Network do not televise any
playoff games. ESPN finished its regular season of Monday Night Football games averaging 12.8 million viewers, down
3.7% from the 2011 season. However, the 2011 season was down close to 10% from
2010. Unlike NBC, which is able to flex games toward the end of the season in
and out of its TV schedule, ESPN cannot do that under its TV rights deal. So
ESPN is locked into its one game per week schedule. Still, ESPN's MNF was the most-watched show on cable
for the seventh consecutive year.
The NFL Network, which televised an expanded 13-game package
on Thursday nights, up from eight games last year, averaged a record 6.4
million viewers per game (not including over-the-air viewers in the televised
teams' markets), up 3.2% from the 6.2 million viewers it averaged last season.
All in all, marketers who advertised in NFL game
telecasts had to be pleased with the audiences they reached. And expect the TV
partners to once again be looking for mid-to-high single-digit price increases
when next season's NFL upfront talks begin.