NFL Championship Games Garner Solid Audiences

Sunday night’s NFC Championship game on Fox is on track to be the highest-rated NFL playoff broadcast since 1995, as the New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings melee notched a 33.3 Nielsen overnight/48 share and drew an estimated 57.9 million viewers.

In a postseason marked by blowouts, the Saints and Vikings gave football fans a night to remember. Facing third-and-15 from the Saints’ 38 with the game tied 28-28 and less than a minute to go in regulation, Vikings QB Brett Favre tossed an errant pass that was picked off by corner Tracy Porter. Minutes later, after winning the coin flip, the Saints managed to work their way into field goal range. Kicker Garrett Hartley split the uprights from 40 yards out for the 31-28 win, securing the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth in its 43-year history.

Fox’s deliveries established Sunday night’s game as the most-watched NFL Championship contest since the Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers title bout on Jan. 10, 1982. The Niners’ 28-27 win drew 68.7 million viewers and marked the beginning of the Joe Montana Era.

The two most relevant markets turned out in force last night, with New Orleans recording a remarkable 63.2 rating/80 share, and Minneapolis-St. Paul pulling a 58.7/80. The Crescent City overnight marks the highest NFL local rating in Fox Sports history, a record that includes Super Bowl broadcasts.

Earlier in the day, CBS also put up some stellar numbers. Despite a lopsided second half that saw Peyton Manning and Co. hang 24 unanswered points on an overmatched Jets defense, CBS’ coverage of the Indy-New York tilt drew a 28.4/50 overnight, the highest rating for an AFC Championship broadcast in 16 years.

The Colts-Jets game was up 19 percent from last year’s Steelers-Ravens title brawl, which drew a 23.8/47 overnight on CBS. The Jan. 18, 2009, AFC Championship game aired in prime time.