NFL Season Kickoff Down From 2019 As 19.3M Tune In; Digital Numbers Up To Near Record – Update


UPDATED, 12:25 PM: The game ended over 12 hours ago and now the final numbers are in from last night’s NFL season opener. The primetime matchup between the victorious Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans snared 19.3 million viewers on NBC.

That’s a fumble of 12.3% from the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears opening game of the 2019-2020 season on September 5, 2019. With racial justice center stage at the beginning of last night’s game, the contest between the reigning Super Bowl champions and the Lone Star state team is up just a touch over the nine-year low of the weather-delayed 2018 season opener in total sets of eyeballs.

Additionally, there were both NBA and NHL playoffs on last night, most noticeably with the Los Angeles Lakers besting the Houston Rockets 110-100 to take a 3-1 lead in their series.

When data from NBC Sports Digital and NFL Digital platforms are added to Thursday’s NFL battle, the 8:28-11:05 p.m.  ET game had a total audience of 20.3 million. That’s an 11% drop from last year’s TAD, even with the digital numbers up 55% over 2019 to a non-Super Bowl high. Last night’s game peaked at 22 million viewers early in the 9:15-9:30 p.m. ET slot.

An easy win for NBC on Thursday night (see the Nielsen chart below), the kickoff game is the most watched sporting event since the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers on February 2 in Super Bowl LIV. Then again, its not like there’s been a lot of live sports since March when the coronavirus pandemic pulled the plug on games across the sporting world.

However, while not a touchdown start, this first NFL game of what is already an extraordinary season in the time of COVID-19 may prove to be opening-night jitters, so to speak, depending on what happens this weekend.

There’s the so-called Battle of the GOATs on Sunday on Fox when now-Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tom Brady meets up with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. And of course, there’s the Los Angeles Rams-Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football too in an audience-less stadium in the smoggy City of Angels. Big drama, and big teams (especially the Cowboys) usually equal big numbers for the NFL and the networks.

PREVIOUSLY, 8:18 AM: With the coronavirus pandemic still raging across America, this year’s NFL season opener was as different as night and day from the 100th season kickoff in 2019.

For one thing, as reigning Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs pummeled the Houston Texans 34-20, and the ratings were down — a lot. In early numbers, the primetime NBC game scored a 5.2 among adults 18-49 and 16.4 million viewers overall between 8-11 p.m. ET.

Now, those numbers for the 8:25-11:30 p.m. ET game will certainly be adjusted upward later, but right now they mark a 16.1% drop over the spectacle of the September 5, 2019 season opener in the advertiser-rich demographic. In an America and an NFL still adjusting to the new normal of live sports in the era of COVID-19, last night’s game also fell 16.1% in total sets of eyeballs from last year’s fast affiliate results.

As of now, the viewership results for the game — in front of 17,000 socially distanced fans at KC’s Arrowhead Stadium — is looking like a 10-year low for the NFL and NBC.

On a field bordered with the words “End Racism” and fans booing as players from both teams linked arms before kickoff in a sign of solidarity with those fighting social injustice, the ratings and viewership decline could be an ominous sign for a league and the networks. The stellar numbers of last year’s opener, the Green Bay Packers’ grinding 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears, kicked off a tightly run season that seemingly had reversed years of weakening numbers. Now it could be a case of déjà vu all over again.

Also, even with the Texans taking an early lead in last night’s game, once halftime came and Kansas City led 17-7, the game lacked drama. By the time the scoreboard read 31-7, a fourth-quarter rally by the Texans was a noble but wasted effort. Add to that the fact that KC and Houston are not big national draws and this opening stumble may end up being a footnote once the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams face off this weekend on the Sunday Night Football opener.

For data comparisons, last year’s 100th season opener on NBC ended up with a viewership of 22 million. Among the key demo, the 2019 kickoff went on to snag a 12.8/26 rating.

As it is, NBC easily won the night last night even with the NFL dropping.

We will update with more NFL season opener ratings as we get them. As we await that data, take a moment to remember that terrible day 19 years ago and those we lost when America was attacked.

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