Exhibit No. 268 in the case of the National Football League v. Everything Else on TV: Last night’s Pro Bowl drew 13.4 million viewers to Fox, making it the most watched NFL all-star scrimmage since 1997.
Despite the remarkably shoddy play exhibited in Aloha Stadium—shortly before the end of the first half, the NFC had jumped out to a 42-0 lead over its AFC counterparts––football fans young and old tuned in for the broadcast. Per Nielsen, the 2011 Pro Bowl improved over last year’s broadcast by 5 percent among viewers 18-34 (4.1 v. 3.9) and soared 34 percent among adults 25-54 (6.3 v. 4.7).
AFC signal callers Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Cassel combined for four interceptions, but a late surge by the Chiefs’ quarterback kept things marginally interesting. At the final gun, the NFC sauntered off with a 55-41 victory, marking an all-time scoring record for the annual exhibition.
The Pro Bowl gave Fox an easy win for the night, notching a 4.7 rating among adults 18-49. While the defensive output on both sides didn’t exactly bring to mind Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain of the 1970s, the spectacle of the penultimate NFL contest of the 2010-11 season was enough to ensure that Fox beat ABC (2.1) and CBS (1.9) in the demo, combined.
On the local front, football-crazy New Orleans topped all markets with a 21.0 rating/28 share, followed by Milwaukee (15.6/23). This despite the fact that the Green Bay Packers did not send a representative to Hawaii, given that they are to take the field against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday.
This was the second Pro Bowl to be played prior to the Super Bowl. The game returned to its Hawaiian roots following last year’s Miami interlude.
This season has been one for the record books, as the NFL’s five broadcast partners (CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, NFL Network) all posted record deliveries during the regular season. The playoffs have also been huge draws. Fox’s coverage of the NFC Championship scared up an average audience of 51.9 million viewers on Jan. 23, making it the most-watched non-prime-time NFC title game ever, and on any network. Immediately following the Packers’ victory, CBS’ coverage of the Steelers-Jets struggle nailed down an average 54.9 million fans, making it the most-watched AFC Championship Game in history and eclipsing the previous record by 3.3 million viewers.
The robust turnout for the Pro Bowl seems to augur an even more monumental Super Bowl audience. Expect the Steelers-Packers street fight to deliver in excess of the record 106.5 million viewers who tuned in for Super Bowl XLIV on CBS last February.