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NFL Reinforces Lofty Status As American Cultural Centerpiece

  • Record-setting 'MNF' audience caps banner opening weekend
  • League remains a massive presence in a fracturing media landscape
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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The NFL entered the 2023 season confident it could consolidate — if not extend — its position as not only the most dominant U.S. sports property, but a major American cultural touchstone.

So far, mission accomplished. 

The league ended the season’s first week by gifting a banner weekend to its main television partners, nearly all of which posted significant ratings increases compared to a year ago. The league is projected to have reached 122 million unique viewers this past weekend.

ESPN posted its best-ever “Monday Night Football” audience since picking up the primetime package in 2006 — even with the shocking loss of new Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a season-ending injury after just four snaps. The game drew an average of 22.6 million viewers, beating a 2009 Minnesota-Green Bay game that saw Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau Field. 

Bigger Than Ratings

Opening week enjoyed other successes. NFL Sunday Ticket performed well in its first game with new operator YouTube, and the league said Tuesday that YouTube has already signed up more residential subscribers than DirecTV last year.

The league also fueled the best-ever day for the ESPN Fantasy mobile app, which garnered 10 million U.S. visitors on Sept. 10.

The NFL continues to thrive despite — or even because of — the ongoing fractures in the media landscape. As the traditional cable bundle continues to unravel and streaming services increasingly cater to individual viewing interests, the league is a rare mass aggregator that keeps growing.  

The league is beginning the season with new stadium projects in Buffalo and Tennessee utilizing significant public money — and soon, perhaps another in Chicago and eventually in Washington.

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