NBC Scores Highest NFL Ratings in 12 Years

NBC’s 2010 Sunday Night Football package delivered the highest ratings for any NFL broadcast slate in a dozen years, averaging 21.8 million viewers, up 12 percent from last season (19.4 million).

The network served up its largest crowd of the 2010 campaign with the season opener between the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings, drawing 27.5 million viewers per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data. Eleven of NBC’s 18 SNF broadcasts averaged more than 20 million viewers, and four games drew in excess of 25 million.

The lowest turnout of the season was recorded on Oct. 10, as the Eagles edged past the 49ers 27-24 in front of a national TV audience of 16.9 million viewers. That still represented a 5 percent increase from the analogous broadcast from a year ago.

With an average household rating of 13.0 for the season, this season was the highest-rated NFL broadcast slate since the 1999-00 campaign, when ABC averaged a 13.7 for Monday Night Football. Unless Fox’ revamped American Idol catches fire, SNF stands a very good chance of being the highest-rated, most-watched series of the 2010-11 broadcast season.

Demos were also up, as NBC’s SNF broadcasts demonstrated a 9 percent gain among viewers 18-49 versus the year-ago period. Through the first 15 weeks of the 2010-11 broadcast season, NBC on the whole is up 5 percent in total viewers and 4 percent in the core demo, making it the only member of the Big Four to show growth among viewers 18-49 thus far this year.

NBC’s average 2.8 rating among viewers 18-49 puts it in second place behind CBS (3.0) and just ahead of Fox (2.7). Season-to-date, CBS is down just 2 percent in the demo, whereas Fox has slipped 16 percent. Fourth-place ABC is down 9 percent, with a 2.5 18-49 rating.

The NFL was must-see TV all over the dial, and the league’s other prime-time package was no exception. ESPN this year averaged a record 14.7 million viewers with its Monday Night Football telecasts, an increase of 2 percent versus its 2009 coverage. This year’s deliveries represent a 23 percent improvement from two years ago, when ESPN’s MNF averaged 12 million viewers.