Ratings Roundup: Cowboys-Buccaneers Earns Title of Most-Watched Season Opener in Six Years; The NFL on CBS Has Second Most-Watched Week 1 Since 1998

Ratings roundup is a rundown of recent rating news and is derived from press releases and reports around the industry. In this week’s edition, Cowboys-Bucs on NBC and Peacock becomes most-watched NFL Kickoff Game since 2015, The NFL on CBS delivers massive audience in Week 1, Big Noon Saturday Matchup between Ohio State and Oregon on Fox is top-rated event of the day, and more.

Cowboys-Bucs on NBC and Peacock Becomes Most-Watched NFL Kickoff Game Since 2015

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ thrilling 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the opening game of the NFL season last night on NBC and Peacock ranks as the most-watched NFL Kickoff Game since 2015, which was also the most-watched season in NBC Sunday Night Football history.

Cowboys-Bucs registered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) average of approximately 26.0 million viewers across NBC TV, Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL Digital platforms, based on preliminary data – marking the largest NFL Kickoff Game audience since Steelers-Patriots in 2015 (27.4 million viewers) and up 20% from last year’s NFL Kickoff Game (21.6 million TAD for Texans-Chiefs, 9/10/20).

With an average of approximately 24.4 million viewers on NBC, the NFL Kickoff Game is television’s most-watched show since Super Bowl LV in February.

NBC’s TV coverage peaked at 25.4 million viewers between 9:45-10 p.m. ET and topped 22 million viewers in 11 of the 14 quarter-hours from 8:30 p.m. ET through 11:55 p.m. ET.

The Average Minute Audience (AMA) for last night’s live stream via Peacock, NBC Sports Digital platforms, NFL Digital platforms, Cowboys and Buccaneers mobile properties, and Yahoo Sports mobile properties was approximately 1.6 million viewers – the highest ever for an NBC NFL game, excluding Super Bowls – and up 64% from last year’s NFL Kickoff Game (970,000).

Viewership figures are based upon preliminary data from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics. Official national data for NBC will be available on Monday.

Last night’s game (8:24 p.m.-11:55 p.m. ET) registered a national TV household rating of 13.4/32 – up 20% from last year (11.2/23).

Top markets included:

  • Dallas — 29.1/56
  • San Antonio — 25.5/45
  • Tampa — 24.6/50
  • Providence — 23.1/44
  • Austin — 22.9/46
  • Boston — 21.4/43
  • Cleveland — 20.3/40
  • Jacksonville — 20.1/38
  • Norfolk — 19.9/39
  • Milwaukee — 17.7/37 (NBC Sports)

The NFL on CBS Delivers Massive Audience in Week 1

The NFL on CBS delivered its second most-watched Week 1 audience since 1998, when the NFL returned to CBS, with a combined average viewership for Sunday’s doubleheader windows totaling 33.472 million viewers, according to Nielsen national ratings (2015, 38.172 million viewers). With the expanded 18-week NFL season, CBS gained an additional national 4:25 PM, ET window which led to a +145% increase in gross viewership for Week 1 versus last year’s singleheader (13.674 million viewers).

Viewership for the 4:25 PM, ET national window, highlighted by Cleveland-Kansas City, was the most-watched Sunday telecast on any network, averaging 19.539 million viewers. It is the Network’s second most-watched Week 1 game window since 1998, and its most-watched opening weekend game window since 2015 (23.287 million viewers).

The regional game window, led by Pittsburgh-Buffalo as the high-coverage game, averaged 13.933 million viewers. Sunday’s doubleheader averaged 16.586 million viewers, up +21% vs. last year’s 13.674 million viewers for opening weekend.

Paramount+, featuring live NFL ON CBS local market games, scored an NFL regular-season viewership record for game minutes consumed while registering triple-digit year-over-year growth in unique devices and double-digit growth in streams from Week 1, 2020. (CBS Sports)

ESPN’s Monday Night Football Season-Opening MegaCast: 15.3 Million Viewers, Delivering MNF’s Most-Watched Week 1 Game Since 2013

ESPN’s Monday Night Football MegaCast presentation of the Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders (Sept. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET) delivered an impressive audience of 15,292,000 viewers across ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes. The audience for Raiders’ thrilling 33-27 overtime win represents ESPN’s best MNF Week 1 viewership since 2013 (15 games*) and second most-watched Week 1 game since it began airing Monday Night Football (31 games).

Additionally, the MegaCast audience for Allegiant Stadium’s first NFL regular season game with fans is up 42% and 17%, respectively, from the first MNF doubleheader game (7 p.m. kickoff) in 2020 and 2019. In both years, the first game of the doubleheader was the most-viewed game out of the two Week 1 games. On ESPN2 alone, Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli registered an audience of 800,000 viewers.

Additional Ravens-Raiders MNF Viewership Highlights:

  • Monday Night Football was the most-watched telecast of the night among households, viewers, and all keys demo: Men 18-34, 18-49, 25-54, and 55+ as well as persons 18-34, 18-49, 25-54 and P5+ on both ESPN and ABC
  • Monday Night Football also helped ESPN and ABC become the most-watched networks (broadcast and cable) in prime time among households, viewers and the same key male and people demos
  • Baltimore was the highest-rated local market at 30.0, followed by Las Vegas at 18.4, and Sacramento at 16.4. The complete Top 10 also include:
    • Kansas City (16.0)
    • San Diego (15.9)
    • San Francisco (14.4)
    • Seattle (13.8)
    • Denver (13.6)
    • Cleveland (13.5)
    • Portland (13.3) (ESPN)

Approximately 100 Million Viewers Watched NFL Football During Week 1

Week 1 averaged 17.4 million viewers, +7% YoY on TV+Digital and the 2nd-highest Week 1 viewership over the last 5 seasons (2017-2021, behind 2019). NFL games ranked as the top 6 telecasts for the Mon-Sun broadcast week and 23.2 billion total minutes were consumed, accounting for the largest Week 1 minutes total since 2016.

The two National windows on Sunday drew 6.3 billion total minutes, which was the highest on record for a Week 1 National window (records date back to 1988). Thursday Night Kickoff between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers delivered 26.4 million viewers, ranking as NBC’s most-watched Kickoff game since 2015. NBC averaged 22.8 million viewers for its Thursday/Sunday games (driven by Kickoff), up +11% YoY.  Monday Night Football between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders averaged 15.3 million viewers on ABC+ESPN+E2, up +59% vs. last year’s doubleheader on ESPN alone, and the most-watched Week 1 MNF game since 2013 (Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Football Team, 16.5 million). (NFL)

Oregon-Ohio State is Sixth Most-Watched Regular Season College Football Game Ever on Fox

7,730,000 viewers watched Oregon upset Ohio State in Big Noon Saturday’s game of the week. The matchup was the most-watched college football game of the day, up +73% over 2019’s Big Ten Saturday average on Fox (4,457,000)

It ranked as Fox Sport’s most-streamed regular season college football game ever with an average minute audience of 161,581. Also, Fox’s Big Noon Kickoof posted 1,320,000 viewers, up +71% over 2019’s Week 2 performance (771,000).

In addition, Texas A&M-Colorado saw 4,502,000 viewers on average, up +78% over 2019’s Pac-12 Saturday average on Fox (2,523,000). This game ranked as the most-watched game in the late afternoon window. (Twitter)

US Open Viewership up 33% in Prime Time, 13% Overall

The 2021 US Open in New York averaged 881,000 viewers in prime time, up 33% (from 662,000) over last year, and it was up 13% (from an average of 702,000 to 796,000) for the entire two weeks of telecasts. Coverage totaled 153 hours across ESPN and ESPN2, an increase of 15% over the 133 that had been scheduled.

This past weekend’s women’s and men’s championships – both featuring historic storylines – each enjoyed large increases over 2020.

  • Women’s Championship: Fernandez vs. Raducanu
    • Saturday’s women’s final between unheralded teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez – the first Major final, male or female, with two unseeded players in the Open Era (since 1968) – averaged 2.44 million viewers. That represents an increase of 37% over last year (Victoria Azarenka vs. Naomi Osaka).
    • The match peaked at 3.4 million viewers at 6-6:15 p.m. ET, ESPN’s highest peak of the tournament.
    • It is the most-watched women’s final of the seven ESPN has televised since acquiring US Open exclusivity in 2015 that did not include Serena Williams (2018, 2019).
  • Men’s Championship: Djokovic vs. Medvedev
    • The men’s final featured the first attempt by a man to win the Grand Slam – capturing all four Major crowns in one calendar year – since Rod Laver in 1969. Top-seeded
    • Novak Djokovic was also seeking sole ownership of the record for career Majors won by a man, currently a tie at 20 with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
    • His match against #2 Daniil Medvedev averaged 2.05 million viewers, up 37% from a year ago. It peaked at 2.7 million viewers at 6:15-30 p.m.

The Men’s Semifinals – now split into an afternoon match (Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Daniil Medvedev) and one in prime time (Novak Djokovic vs. Alexander Zverev) – combined to average 1.3 million viewers. That represents an increase of 46% over 2020. (ESPN)

Formula 1 on ESPN – Italian Grand Prix

Sunday’s Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix on ESPN2 attracted an average audience of 880,000 viewers, the third-largest F1 audience on record for ESPN2 (surpassing the mark set just last week by the Netherlands Grand Prix).

The audience was the second-largest ever for the Italian Grand Prix and the largest since ABC aired the race in 2002 to 1.05 million viewers. The race was the most-viewed Italian Grand Prix on cable on record. The audience peaked at 1.1 million average viewers between 10:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. ET. The race had the 11th largest audience of 2021 (again surpassing the mark set last week) and falls within the top 20 audiences for F1 on cable on record

F1 races on ESPN networks are averaging 938K viewers – up 54 percent over the full season of 2020 (608K) and 39 percent over the full season of 2019 (672K). Compared to first 13 races of the season, the 2021 F1 average is up 49 percent over 2020 (631K) and up 40 percent over 2019 (668K). ESPN2’s telecast of Sprint Qualifying on Saturday averaged 642,000 viewers, the most-viewed qualifying round this year.

NASCAR Scores Most-Watched Playoff Opener Since 2016

The NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener from Darlington (S.C.) averaged a 1.4 rating and 2.46 million viewers on NBCSN last Sunday evening, marking the largest audience of the first race of the playoffs since Chicagoland in 2016 (2.69M).

Denny Hamlin’s win, which peaked with 2.7 million viewers, was flat in ratings and inched up 1% in viewership compared to last year (1.4, 2.43M) but declined 27% and 33% respectively from 2019, when the race was severely delayed due to rain (1.1, 1.86M).

The corresponding Xfinity Series race drew a 0.52 and 861,000 on NBCSN Saturday, down from last year’s race on the NBC broadcast network (0.7, 1.18M). (SportsMediaWatch)

More recently, Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series race in Richmond on NBCSN was the the highest-rated Richmond Playoff race since 2017, earning a 1.07 rating and 1.78 million viewers. The rating is up +2% vs. 2020 Richmond on NBCSN (1.05), viewership also up +2% (1.74 million), was the fourth consecutive NCS race with YOY gains in viewership (Michigan, Daytona, Darlington, Richmond), and had a peak of 1.9 million viewers.

Smackdown Slams Competition, Scores Best Show Since January 2021

2,383,000 viewers tuned in for last week’s Friday Night Smackdown on Fox. The broadcast was the most-watched edition of Smackdown since Jan. 22, 2021, and was up +11% over September 2020’s average viewership (2,155,000 viewers).

Smackdown was the most-watched telecast of the day in the A18-49 demographic. Top markets included Birmingham (4.4/7), Richmond (4.2/8), Memphis (3.7/7), Tulsa (3.7/7), and Louisville (3.5/7). (Twitter)

Tour Championship Dips Slightly, Continues Recent Downturn for PGA

Final round coverage of the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship averaged a 2.3 rating and 3.97 million viewers on NBC last Sunday, down a tick in ratings and 1% in viewership from last year’s Labor Day finish (2.4, 4.01M). Compared to 2019, ratings fell 8% (from 2.5) but viewership increased 7% (from 3.71M).

Figures do not include the first 90 minutes of NBC’s coverage, which was measured as a separate program (1.4, 2.28M).

Third round coverage the previous day had a 1.1 and 1.86 million, down 40% in ratings and 42% in viewership from last year’s Sunday coverage (1.9, 3.18M). Compared to Saturday coverage in 2019, ratings fell a tick but viewership jumped 9% (from 1.70M).

Dating back to the start of July, 16 of 18 PGA Tour windows on broadcast television declined from the last comparable year. (SportsMediaWatch)

Solheim Cup Down From Last U.S. Edition

NBC coverage of the Solheim Cup averaged a 0.41 rating and 634,000 viewers on Saturday and a 0.59 and 878,000 on Sunday, both down from the network’s coverage back in 2017, the last time the event was held in the U.S. (0.7, 968K; 0.6, 946K). Keep in mind that NBC aired first and second-day coverage this year and second and third-day coverage in 2017. NBC did not air any live coverage of the previous Solheim Cup in 2019, which took place in Europe and aired in the overnight hours.

Monday’s final round averaged 588,000 viewers on Golf Channel, down 26% from Sunday coverage in ’17 (795K). (SportsMediaWatch)

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