There was a lot of history at Super Bowl LV on Sunday. Unfortunately, not all of it looks good when it comes to how many people actually watched – and we’re not just talking about Nielsen’s unprecedented delay in getting the actual data out.
In figures released Tuesday morning by CBS Sports, the big game had a total audience of 96.4 million viewers on CBS and a bundle of platforms and outlets, according to Nielsen. Confirming suspicions that many had even going into the matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, that is the least-watched Super Bowl in recent history.
With around 91.6 million viewers on CBS alone, the 2021 Super Bowl is still the most watched show of the past year. However, taking an 8% stumble from what Fox had on its broadcast network last year, the 55th Super Bowl distinctly had the smallest network audience since the very different TV era of 2006.
What is also true is that the total numbers, from CBS, CBS Sports and NFL digital properties, Buccaneers and Chiefs mobile properties, Verizon Media mobile properties and ESPN Deportes television and digital properties, are the lowest since 2007. They are down around 5% from what last year’s Chiefs win over the San Francisco 49ers pulled in.
That Super Bowl LIV figure was a culmination of Fox, Fox Deportes and Fox, NFL and Verizon’s digital properties. The cumulative 2020 end result was a touch ahead of the 100.7 million who watched the 2019 Super Bowl across a pantheon of CBS and NFL properties and platforms.
The bruising viewership aside, there were some other pretty major historical aspects to Sunday’s gridiron face-off.
On the digital curve, Super Bowl LV was the most live-streamed in history, averaging 5.7 million viewers per minute, up 69% from 2020’s pervious high.
Now as the Buccaneers and Raymond James Stadium will brag for years, Sunday was also the first time the NFL’s big game was won by a team playing on their home turf.
Add to the procession of honors, in his first year in the Sunshine State metropolis, this victory was quarterback Tom Brady’s 10th Super Bowl and his seventh win, two new records. GOAT Brady also shattered his own record as the oldest Super Bowl-winning QB at the AARP-looming age of 43. Brady is the first QB to win the Super Bowl in three different decades and the first player to clench multiple titles after the ripe old age of 40.
The Buccaneers’ assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar became the first female coaches to win a Super Bowl.
Also in the mix, February 7’s primetime game on CBS had the first halftime show headlined by a Canadian, with The Weeknd taking center stage – though we don’t have any figures yet for how many people actually watched his performance. Staying in the music realm, Super Bowl LV was the first time a “common ground”-seeking Bruce Springsteen appeared in a Super Bowl ad too. Sunday’s extravaganza was also the first Super Bowl to have a poet literally read a pre-game composition, as the amazing Amanda Gorman did Sunday.
In terms of the history books, the 31-9 blowout by the Buccaneers over last year’s champs wasn’t the most lopsided win ever; that still goes to the 49ers’ 55-10 thrashing of the Denver Broncos in 1990. However, it sure felt like it at times Sunday, even to some of the commentators who are hired to toss hyperboles around freely.
Back to the harsh viewership, the historical reality is no big surprise when you look at the big picture for the big game. Despite technical and cultural efforts to make the Covid-19 restrictions of Sunday’s game a non-event, the action on the field was just not the kind of drama that sports analysts and CBS programmers were anticipating. Which, with two less than top market teams participating, likely saw a lot of viewers clicking elsewhere on the first Sunday of February as the outcome became obvious long before the game was over.
Additionally, despite the best efforts of the Roger Goodell-led league to pump up the process and relatively empty stadiums, the NFL had a 10% drop in ratings on average this season after two years of increases – a fall that can’t help but hit the Super Bowl itself and dim enthusiasm as teams and supporters quarreled over safety protocols, cultural and racial justice, and a schedule that sometimes went off the rails due to positive coronavirus test results.
In other figures from Sunday, the 10:39 PM ET postgame premiere of the new version of The Equalizer starring Queen Latifah snagged an audience of 20.4 million. The drama was solidly the top-viewed series start of the current TV season and, with a 5.1 among adults 18-49, the highest-rated entertainment show since the Oscars in February 2020. Still, The Equalizer was down 14% from what The Masked Singer‘s Season 3 opener scored in its post-game start last year on Fox.
Moving deeper into the night, the 12:14 a.m. ET airing of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert snared 4.8 million viewers. The special, which had Robert Downey Jr and Metallica as guests, as the late-nighter’s best viewership and demo rating (1.1) since its last post-Super Bowl showing in 2019.
Furthermore, because who doesn’t love more stats, check out the Top 5 most watched Super Bowls here:
1. 2015: 114.4 million – Super Bowl XLIX: New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks (NBC)
2. 2014: 112.2 million – Super Bowl XLVIII: Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos (Fox)
3. 2016: 111.9 million – Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers (CBS)
4. 2012: 111.35 million – Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots (NBC)
5. 2017: 111.32 million – Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (Fox)
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