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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Tuned In: Cowboys Agony Proves Ratings Gold For ESPN

  • Stephen A. Smith’s First Take drew a massive 1.5M viewers on Monday after Dallas’s shock loss.
  • Mike Greenberg’s Get Up set a five-year audience high.
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The Dallas Cowboys’ humiliating 48-32 loss to the Green Bay Packers was a disaster for fans of America’s Team watching the Fox Sports broadcast. But it proved to be a TV bonanza for rival ESPN, with multiple shows posting all-time audience highs on Monday.  

On his First Take morning show, Stephen A. Smith loves to torture crying Cowboys fans. After the defeat, audiences tuned in to watch what Smith, Mike Greenberg, and other ESPN personalities had to say about Dallas’s latest playoff disappointment.  

  • First Take averaged a massive 1.5 million viewers, which topped the 16-year-old show’s previous high of 918,000 viewers, set onJan. 17, 2022. It earned more than five times the audience of Skip Bayless’s rival Undisputed on FS1 (267,000 viewers). As Smith said Thursday: “The Dallas Cowboys for me are the gift that keeps on giving. They just don’t let me down.”
  • Greenberg’s five-year-old Get Up notched 979,000 viewers, beating its previous high of 730,000, set on Jan. 3. It drew 14 times the audience of The Carton Show on FS1.
  • The four-month-old Pat McAfee Show drew a season-high 946,000 viewers across TV and YouTube. (On TV alone, McAfee averaged 811,000 viewers.) At FS1, The Herd with Colin Cowherd also had a record-setting day, averaging 318,000 viewers, up 35% compared to the Monday average last January. It was the most-watched Herd episode ever on FS1.
  • The 2 p.m. ET SportsCenter averaged 727,000 viewers, easily beating the show’s previous high of 414,000 on Jan. 2.
  • Finally, an NFL Live special averaged 937,000 viewers, trailing only a Christmas Day episode in 2019.

Fox Sports’s coverage of the Cowboys-Packers game on Sunday averaged 40 million viewers, up 20% from 33.2 million viewers for last year’s comparable New York Giants-Minnesota Vikings game. It’s projected to be Fox’s best wild-card performance since 2015.  

Cowboys-Packers also delivered the second-highest viewership of the NFL season, behind the 41.8 million viewers for Dallas’s Thanksgiving Day win over the Washington Commanders, according to Sports Media Watch.

… But This Hurts in the Long Term

The Cowboys’ early exit was a killjoy for executives at NFL TV partners, who were hoping America’s Team would finally make it back to the Super Bowl.

As my colleague Eric Fisher noted, losing the Cowboys, the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round deprives networks of three of the league’s most popular TV teams with big national fan bases.  

Three of the four most-watched individual games this season involved the Cowboys or Eagles. Based on their social media followings, the Cowboys, Steelers, and Eagles are the league’s No. 1, 3 and 4 most popular teams.

—Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will too.

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