Sunday’s AFC and NFC Championship Games drew what qualify as massive TV audiences by any standards — except by the standards that the AFC and NFC Championship Games set last year.
The NFL has announced that the Packers-Seahawks game averaged 49.8 million viewers, and the Colts-Patriots game averaged 42.1 million viewers. Those are huge television audiences, and the NFC Championship Game was the most-watched American television show since last year’s Super Bowl.
But while those numbers are great, they’re actually down quite a bit from last year, when the 49ers-Seahawks NFC Championship Game averaged 55.9 million viewers and the Patriots-Broncos AFC Championship Game averaged 51.3 million viewers.
The decline in viewership is surely the result of the games themselves being less competitive: Although the Seahawks came back and beat the Packers in overtime, for much of the game it looked like it was going to be a Packers blowout, which may have led some fans to turn off the TV. And the Patriots destroyed the Colts in a game that was over before the fourth quarter.
In fact, the peak rating for this year’s NFC Championship Game was actually higher than the peak rating for last year’s NFC Championship Game: This year there were 60.5 million viewers watching as the Seahawks scored a touchdown to win in overtime, while last year there were 60.3 million viewers watching as Richard Sherman tipped a pass intended for Michael Crabtree to set up the game-winning interception. But while more people watched the end of this year’s game than the end of last year’s game, last year’s game had a higher average rating because it was close and competitive throughout, which results in more fans staying tuned for all three-plus hours of play. This year’s game looked at halftime like it was going to be a dud, which results in some fans tuning out — even if they came back in time to watch the Seahawks win in overtime.
The ratings for this year’s playoffs have generally followed that pattern, with closer and more competitive games (particularly those in last weekend’s divisional round) drawing better ratings, and less competitive games drawing fewer viewers.
However, it’s worth noting that even a bad NFL playoff game like Colts-Patriots drew a rating that dwarfs the ratings of anything else on TV. The NFL remains the king of American television.