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NFL Week 1 Draws Best Average Viewership Since 2016

  • Week 1 games averaged 18.5 million viewers, up 3%.
  • Over 121 million fans watched games during Kickoff Weekend
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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Despite a weak start Thursday night, the NFL posted a strong Kickoff Weekend TV performance. NFL games averaged 18.5 million viewers across TV and digital platforms — up 3% from Week 1 of last season, and the league’s best TV start since 2016.

To put that in perspective, the six-game 2021 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros averaged 11.7 million viewers. 

The NFL’s Week 1 average more than tripled the audience of the Emmy Awards Monday night, which crashed to an all-time low of 5.92 million viewers.

“As the viewership numbers would indicate, our fans are obviously excited to have the NFL back,” said Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. “We’re looking forward to Week 2 which will start with a historic game in Kansas City on Amazon Prime Video.”

With viewers flocking to news channels for coverage of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the audience for NBC Sports’ coverage of the season opener between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams dropped 19% to 21 million-plus viewers. 

But once the full game schedule kicked in on Sunday, the NFL’s TV numbers went on a rocket ride. Consider:

  • Over 121 million fans watched NFL games on Kickoff Weekend Thursday through Monday — up 5% from last year. 
  • Nearly 83 million fans watched games on Sunday afternoon, up 7%.
  • The most-watched game was NBC’s telecast of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys on “Sunday Night Football” (24.5 million average viewers).  
  • CBS posted its best Week 1 audience since 2018, with its doubleheader coverage averaging 17 million viewers.
  • Fox’s own doubleheader averaged 15. 4 miillion viewers, up 11%.
  • ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” had its most-watched telecast since 2009.

Still, there are storm clouds on the horizon. 

The league’s TV partners NBC, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN rely heavily on the drawing power of Dak Prescott’s Cowboys and Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers for ratings. With both NFC powerhouses off to 0-1 starts, audiences could drop for their Week 2 games and beyond.

Both the Cowboys and Packers are slated for national-game slots this Sunday, with Dallas taking on the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals on CBS at 4:25 p.m. ET and Green Bay playing the Chicago Bears on NBC at 8:20 p.m. ET.

The same dynamic goes for sports talk shows which rely on the appeal of America’s Team – and the mystery around the enigmatic Rodgers – to drive their daily conversation. 

As ESPN’s Mike Greenberg joked on “Get Up” on Wednesday: “If the Cowboys and Aaron Rodgers are both irrelevant, our show goes on hiatus.” 

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