Gang-Tackling TV’s Ratings Roster

Be it on broadcast or cable, football is the only game in town

ESPN's BCS title tilt between Auburn and Oregon drew 27.4 million viewers. | Photo credit: Tom Hauck/Getty Images


Television is a football-delivery mechanism that occasionally transmits the odd episode of NCIS, so it should come as no surprise that National Football League and college games accounted for the biggest ratings of 2011.

According to Nielsen, NFL programming served up nine of the year’s top 10 largest audiences, while the BCS National Championship Game and Monday Night Football dominated on cable.

With an average draw of 111 million total viewers, Fox’s Feb. 6 coverage of Super Bowl XLV became the single most-watched broadcast of all time. The Packers-Steelers brawl easily outdelivered the previous record holder; CBS’ presentation of Super Bowl XLIV (Saints-Colts) drew 106.5 million viewers, edging the series finale of M*A*S*H by a margin of some 500,000 souls.

Perhaps more importantly, the Super Bowl drew a 39.9 rating among adults 18-49, about five times what American Idol averaged (8.0) as the top-rated program of 2010-11.

Along with the pre- and postgame shows, viewers also flocked to the AFC Championship Game on CBS (54.9 million) and the NFC Championship Game on Fox (51.9 million).

The lone entry on this year’s top 10 list that had nothing to do with the NFL was the 83rd Academy Awards. ABC on Feb. 27 managed to attract 37.9 million viewers, down 9 percent from Oscar’s year-ago 41.7 million.

While the price of entry for the year’s big events was roughly proportionate to their respective deliveries, it would appear that the Super Bowl may have been a better bargain. Fox commanded an average price of $3 million per 30 seconds of airtime in last year’s game, whereas a spot on ABC’s Oscars telecast ran to around $1.7 million.

On the cable front, ESPN enjoyed another banner year, setting an all-time record with the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. Marking the first time the college football title was decided on basic cable, the Jan. 10 Auburn-Oregon thriller averaged 27.4 million viewers, of which nearly half (13.4 million) were members of the 18-49 set.

By way of comparison, the BCS capper outdelivered Game 7 of Major League Baseball’s World Series (25.4 million) on Fox by 8 percent and beat the UConn-Butler NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship broadcast on CBS (20.1 million) by 36 percent.

All told, ESPN laid claim to 18 of the year’s top 20 cable telecasts, a roster that includes the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 (20.6 million) as well as 13 Monday Night Football contests. With an average draw of 17.2 million viewers, the most-watched MNF game of the current season was Redskins-Cowboys on Sept. 26.

Also packing them in was the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final between Team USA and Japan, which drew 13.5 million viewers on the afternoon of July 17.

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