We already noted that the early TV ratings for Sunday night’s Steelers-Broncos game were incredibly strong, but now that the NFL has released the full viewership numbers for all of wild card weekend, we’ll take another look.
For starters, that Steelers-Broncos game was a monster on television: It drew 42.4 million viewers, which makes it the most-watched program on all of American television since Super Bowl XLV. More people watched Steelers-Broncos than the Academy Awards, or the American Idol final, or Charlie Sheen’s funeral on Two and a Half Men, or anything else since the end of last football season.
Further evidence of what a TV juggernaut the NFL is comes from the viewership totals of the other wild card games: Lions-Saints got 31.8 million viewers, Falcons-Giants got 27.7 million viewers and Bengals-Texans got 21.9 million viewers. The week’s four NFL games were the only four shows on American television to draw more than 20 million viewers.
One noteworthy aspect of the NFL’s ratings is that the size of the market has little to do with the size of the TV audience. Every October we hear gnashing of teeth from the networks and Major League Baseball if small-market teams are in the playoffs because small-market teams don’t draw. In the NFL, it’s all about interest in the team, not the size of the market. Tim Tebow has made the Broncos a national story, and the Steelers have a rabid fanbase, and the market size of Denver and Pittsburgh didn’t matter. The Saints and Lions offered fans a scoring explosion, and the market size of New Orleans and Detroit didn’t matter.
So, yes, the NFL dominates the American television landscape. In case you didn’t know that already.