NFL Network Scares Up Record Ratings

Expanded Thursday Night Football slate helps double ad sales dollars

NFL Network’s beefed-up slate of live Thursday Night Football broadcasts put up record numbers, averaging 6.35 million viewers over the course of 13 games.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, TNF delivered an average 2.6 rating among adults 18-49, up 8 percent from the 2.4 the network delivered with last season’s eight-game schedule.

The NFL’s in-house net managed to put up big numbers despite being denied the Thanksgiving night showcase game. Last year’s Turkey Day matchup between the 49ers and Ravens delivered an historic 10.7 million viewers and a 4.1 in the dollar demo.

Upon completion of the NFL’s new media rights deals, NBC was awarded the Thanksgiving prime time game. The Peacock’s inaugural Turkey Bowl was hampered by a monumentally lousy Jets performance—New York’s 49-19 humiliation at the hands of the New England Patriots delivered an average audience of 19.2 million viewers

All told, the Jets endured a 49-19 shellacking in front of an average audience of 19.2 million viewers and a 10.1 household rating. Media buyers said the results were nowhere near NBC’s guarantee of a 19 HH rating.

The biggest draw of the season for NFL Net was the Bears-Packers opener on Sept. 13, which scared up 8.56 million viewers and a 3.8 in the 18-49 demo. The least-watched/lowest-rated TNF telecast, an uninspired AFC West meeting of the Chiefs and Chargers, delivered just 4.80 million viewers and a 2.0 rating on Nov. 1.

Two weeks into NFL Net’s expanded slate, the channel completed a carriage deal with the sole remaining holdout in the cable/DBS space. In signing on with Time Warner Cable, the network upped its distribution from 60 million to approximately 70 million homes.

While NFL Network has carried Thursday night games since it launched in 2006, it does not have a long-term deal in place. As such, it is entirely possible that the package could be sold to Turner Sports, NBC Sports Network or Fox Cable before the 2013 season kicks off.

The league last summer shopped around a new eight-game Thursday night package, before ultimately electing to award an extra suite of five games to its own media property.

Per SNL Kagan estimates, NFL Network charges an average sub carriage of 95 cents per subscriber per month, raking in some $773.5 million in annual affiliate revenue. The channel this year is on track to book some $200.7 million in total ad sales revenue, more than double what it took in a year ago ($99.6 million).

Kagan’s estimates may be a bit on the conservative side. Sanford C. Bernstein media analyst Todd Juenger earlier this month estimated that NFL Network generates some $19 million in ad sales revenue per game, which would translate to $247 million for the entire season.

Thursday nights are the most crucial on the calendar, and CPMs are priced accordingly. Movie studios, automotive brands/dealers and retails regularly pay a premium for high-impact Thursday prime time inventory, as then night serves as a gateway to the weekend. 

As has been the case for the last several years, NFL inventory remains the most valuable in media. Per SQAD NetCosts data, Fox boasts the single largest unit price on TV, charging clients an average rate of $589,000 per 30-second spot in its late-afternoon games. NBC fetches an estimated $540,000 per :30 for its Sunday Night Football inventory, CBS commands a unit price of $385,000) for its late-afternoon AFC broadcasts and cable titan ESPN books approximately $340,000 a pop for time on Monday Night Football.

Through 16 games, NBC is averaging 21.1 million Sunday Night Football viewers, while leading the prime time field in the dollar demo (8.2). Season-to-date, the most-watched, highest-rated SNF broadcast arrived on Sept. 9, as a revitalized Peyton Manning made his debut under center with Denver. The Steelers-Broncos showdown delivered 27.6 million viewers and an 11.0 in the dollar demo.

ESPN’s Monday Night Football is averaging 13 million total viewers and a 5.2 in the 18-49 demo.