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Sunday, February 25, 2024
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NFL’s Christmas Ratings Surge Sparks Speculation About Future Holidays

  • CBS, ABC draw huge audiences for the NFL’s improved slate of Christmas Day games.
  • League looks to avoid midweek games, but will exceptions be made?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL made a concerted effort to place better matchups on Christmas Day. The league was promptly rewarded with monster ratings, raising the stakes on what it might do in future years on the holiday. 

After the NFL featured Super Bowl contenders in each of its three game windows on Monday, CBS Sports reported an average audience of 29.2 million viewers for the early afternoon matchup of the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders. That total marks the most-watched Christmas Day game in 34 years, and it beats the comparable game last year by 29%.

ESPN, meanwhile, said its coverage of the primetime matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers on ABC and ESPN+ drew an average of 27.1 million, the second-most-watched Monday Night Football game in the last 27 years. That total trails only the 29 million garnered just five weeks earlier for a Chiefs-Philadelphia Eagles game that provided a rematch of Super Bowl LVII. 

Wednesday Football?

Mike North, the NFL’s vice president of broadcast planning, told Front Office Sports last week that Christmas games in 2024 were unlikely given that the holiday falls on a Wednesday, outside of the normal NFL schedule. But given that the Chiefs-Raiders viewership was the fifth-highest total of any NFL game this season, the league’s presence on the holiday has been significantly strengthened, expanding on its existing dominance of Thanksgiving—and raising the question of whether some type of exception might be made. 

Looking even further ahead: Christmas 2025 falls on a Thursday, and the holiday won’t again land on a Tuesday or Wednesday until 2029, opening up a rich new realm of programming possibilities for the NFL. 

“When the holidays fall on traditional NFL game days, maybe even sometimes non-traditional NFL game days, if the fans are interested, if the broadcast partners are interested, if it fits in our overall strategy … our fans have shown us that they will find us,” North said. 

Ratings have not yet been released for the late-afternoon NFL game on Christmas between the New York Giants and Eagles, shown on Fox, or for ESPN’s slate of five NBA games. Fox, however, did say on Wednesday that the network’s Dec. 24 coverage of the Dallas Cowboys-Miami Dolphins game drew an average of 31.5 million viewers, its best Sunday late-afternoon performance since 1995.

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