NFL Posts Smash-Mouth Broadcast Ratings

Regular-season deliveries echo 2010 performance

The National Football League enjoyed another robust broadcasting season, as ratings for the NBC, Fox and CBS packages were consistent with the stellar 2010 campaign.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, NBC’s Sunday Night Football put up the biggest deliveries of the season, averaging 21.5 million total viewers, off a tick (-1 percent) from the year-ago 21.8 million. In the money demo, NBC’s prime-time pigskin package drew 10.8 million adults 18-49, marking a slight deviation from the previous season. As has been the case in the last several years, women made up a third of the Sunday Night Football audience. According to Nielsen, NBC’s slate of 18 games delivered an average 3.54 million women 18-49.

Eight NBC games averaged 15 million viewers or more. The network’s biggest draw came courtesy of its special Thursday Night Football season opener, a Green Bay-New Orleans shootout that served up 18.3 million viewers on Sept. 8. Media buyers say a 30-second spot in Sunday Night Football now fetches around $500,000, up nearly 24 percent from last season.

Fox averaged 20.1 million total viewers with its suite of Sunday afternoon NFC games, flat versus its 2010 deliveries. The broadcaster averaged 9.33 million adults 18-49, of which 33 percent were women. The NFL on Fox enjoyed its biggest draw on Thanksgiving Day, as the Packers and Detroit Lions brawled in front of a national TV audience of 30.2 million viewers.

CBS, which covers the smaller-market teams of the AFC, averaged 18.4 million viewers, a dip of 2 percent from last season. Over the course of the season, CBS’ NFL coverage averaged 8.35 million adults 18-49; as was the case with NBC and Fox, exactly one-third of those viewers were female. With an average draw of 30.9 million turkey-stuffed citizens, the late Thanksgiving Day game on CBS (Miami at Dallas) stands as the most-watched NFL contest of the regular season.

Cable was a different story. Saddled with a schedule littered with more than a few small-market stinkers—not one but two Jacksonville Jaguars games, plus a Rams-Seahawks crapfest—ESPN endured a 10 percent drop in deliveries.

Monday Night Football averaged 13.3 million viewers, down 1.41 million from its record-smashing 2010 season. The dollar demo sank 11 percent to 6.88 million adults 18-49. ESPN’s NFL games are slightly more male-skewing than are the broadcast packages. Women 18-49 accounted for 29 percent of the demo delivery.

Per media buyer estimates, the average cost of a 30-second spot on MNF hovers just north of $300,000.

NFL Network closed out its sixth season of live-game coverage in fine form, averaging 6.19 million viewers over eight Thursday night telecasts. Despite a failure to line up a carriage deal with No. 2 cable operator Time Warner Cable, NFL Net saw its ratings jump 9 percent from 5.71 million a year ago. The channel currently reaches 57 million households.

The NFL three weeks ago renewed its media rights contracts with all three broadcast partners. On a percentage basis, NBC will pay the greatest increase, upping its fee 58 percent to some $950 million per year. CBS has committed to a 55 percent hike ($1 billion per season), and Fox will pay a 48 percent increase ($1.1 billion).