NFL preseason ratings show the power of the league: Sports on TV

For years, I’ve called the NFL’s preseason games little more than glorified scrimmage. Useless exhibition. Fraud by owners to sell tickets and concessions to a riotous practice between two teams.

That’s obviously an exaggeration, but end-of-season injuries are still devastating, even in games that don’t count.Preseasons are a instructive example of the power of the NFL as a television product.

On Saturday, four preseason games were broadcast live nationwide on the NFL Network. Here are their ratings:

2022 NFL Network Preseason Week 1

game kick off audience rating


7 pm

2.15 million

colts bills

4 pm

1.88 million


9 pm

1.66 million


1 p.m.

1.41 million

That’s an average of 1.77 million viewers in the first week of the 2022 preseason. A year ago, the total of four NFL Network preseason games played in the same window averaged 1.5 million.

Several live sports broadcasts over the past week have surpassed or matched those numbers. Fox’s “Field of Dreams” baseball games out of Iowa averaged 3.1 million. He averaged just over 2 million viewers for MLB’s Saturday Night games on Fox. His championship with FedEx St. Jude on the PGA Tour, on NBC he scored 2.96 million. NASCAR in Richmond averaged 2.39 million on USA Network.

These are all impressive numbers in the current chaotic situation in the U.S. television industry and audience habits that are dramatically changing with the consumption of linear and streaming TV.

In fact, while the NFL numbers look similar to the rest of the week’s sports viewership numbers, these games are don’t count.

Let’s understand: Millions of people are watching rookies, obscure free agents, recent USFL players, career backups, and briefly (probably) some stars (probably) on the standings and I tuned in to watch you play a game that doesn’t count in your record books. The game includes the veteran’s tune-up, the coach’s additional game film, the bubble his player’s last shot, and the team’s cash earnings to bundle his pre-season games into the regular season and purchase his tickets for the season. play a role.

Die-hard fans thrive on these games (and players and coaches alike) in hopes that no major player is lost to injury. For several players, including Jets quarterback Zach Wilson and Browns starting center Nick Harris, injuries have already cut seasons short for all or part of it.

Three other NFL preseason games on NFL Network last week (one on Thursday and two on Friday) each averaged over a million viewers. Some tape delay games averaged hundreds of thousands of viewers.

We’re less than a month away from the start of the regular season, but we still have two more weeks of preseason games. It starts with the Bears-Seahawks game on Thursday at 8pm on ESPN.

In the 2021 regular season, NFL games rebounded from a slight pandemic-induced decline, averaging 17.1 million viewers. With the addition of his 17th regular season game to each team since last season, the NFL has enjoyed a record $11 billion in gross revenue. TV rights are a big part of that money.

No television can match the NFL’s enjoyment of regular season and playoff highlights. Whether it’s sports, prestige scripted shows, or primetime blaring cable news stories. Last year’s TV season had the highest total viewership for non-NFL programming, with NCIS averaging 10.9 million viewers on CBS (down 13% year-over-year).

As such, the NFL was able to sign $113 billion in media rights deals over the next 11 seasons.

So far, 14 of the top 15 televised sporting events in the US in 2022 will be last season’s NFL playoff games, including 100 million for the Super Bowl in February. According to Sports Media Watch, the top 50 such broadcasts were half the NFL games. is the rule of

Just because the NFL is dominating viewership doesn’t mean other live sports aren’t worth it. Each sport reaches different demographics, and Nielsen ratings exist to separate which demos are watching what. The network uses that data to set advertising rates, and that money ultimately helps drive how much you pay for the show’s media rights.

That’s why the news this week that the WNBA has had great viewership this season in that context is great. You don’t have to be in the NFL to be successful. Similarly, other legacy major leagues are significantly below the NFL’s viewership numbers (because the NFL has a much smaller inventory of live games).

It’s important context to note that preseason is a slightly different creature. Teams sell rights to preseason games locally. For example, in 2015, the Detroit Lions signed a deal with local Fox affiliate WJBK to become their preseason flagship station with a network of statewide stations for syndication. Meanwhile, the NFL has a regular season and national playoffs to major stations (and now Amazon Prime Video). Preseason games that air locally generally have smaller audiences than those that air nationally on the NFL Network, Fox, CBS, or Amazon.

The major networks that distribute preseason games are delivering local broadcasts produced by teams and network partners in the market.

When the regular season begins, big NFL money and big crowds. There won’t be a real match until the LA Rams host the Buffalo Bills on September 8 at 8:20 p.m. on NBC.

All viewing data is from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics, as well as other metrics via TV networks, Nielsen, Sports Media Watch, ShowBuzz Daily, and leagues. Always Eastern unless otherwise noted.

(Photo: Mark Konezny/USA Today)

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