Steelers, Packers Sack Ratings Records

Two of the National Football League’s most storied franchises will close out the 2010-11 season in Dallas, as the Pittsburgh Steelers go for an unprecedented seventh Super Bowl title against the Green Bay Packers. Given the record-smashing ratings delivered throughout the year, the Feb. 6 battle for the Lombardi Trophy could very well outdraw last year’s record turnout.

In the early window on Sunday, Fox’s coverage of the Bears-Packers brawl scared up an average audience of 51.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched non-prime-time NFC Championship Game ever, and on any network. According to Nielsen fast nationals, the grudge match between the NFC North rivals was the most-watched NFC title game to end in regulation in 15 years, trailing Cowboys-Packers in January 1996 (52.7 million).
At 6 p.m. EST, when the Packers earned the right to play in their first Super Bowl since 1998, Fox viewership soared as high as 59.5 million. An estimated 80.3 million Americans saw at least part of Sunday’s game, per Fox Sports estimates.
Milwaukee topped all markets for the game with a 57.0 rating/85 share, while Chicago notched a 50.6 rating/81 share.

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. (On Jan. 10, 1982, NBC drew 51.6 million total viewers with its coverage of the “Freezer Bowl,” a 27-7 Bengals victory over the Chargers in which the mercury plunged to -9° F.)

Viewership peaked between 9-9:30 p.m. EST, as the Steelers held off a valiant Jets’ comeback effort to win their eighth trip to the Super Bowl. In the final minutes of Sunday night’s game, CBS notched a 29.3 rating/43 share and an average delivery of 56.6 million viewers.

Local ratings for New York and Pittsburgh were not immediately available.

Given the enduring popularity of the NFL, the rich history of both franchises and the 2.5-point opening spread, Super Bowl XLV is almost certain to outdraw last year’s capper. The New Orleans Saints’ victory over the Indianapolis Colts on CBS averaged 106.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in US television history.

Both Pittsburgh and Green Bay are reliable draws. In Super Bowl XXXII, the Packers and Broncos attracted 90 million viewers for only the fifth time in NFL history. Two years before that, the Steelers and Cowboys notched a then-high 94.1 million viewers on NBC; Pittsburgh would go on to set a short-lived record in 2009 with its sixth NFL title in front of a national audience of 98.7 million fans.

The Steelers and Packers are also two of the biggest draws in their respective home markets. According to Nielsen, Pittsburgh in 2010 ranked second with an average 41.9 local HH rating, edging Green Bay (41.3). Tops among all NFL franchises this season: the defending champion Saints, which averaged a 43.9 HH rating in their hometown DMA.