The 2015 football season included an apples-to-paperclips comparison of normal TV ratings to Internet numbers generated by the Bills-Jaguars stream on Yahoo. The 2015 football season ended with a little (or a lot) of embellishment of the Super Bowl audience.
CBS announced, and NFL.com trumpeted, that 167 million viewers tuned in for the game, “making it the most-watched single broadcast per Nielsen’s Fast Total Audience Estimates.”
That’s fine, but the total audience isn’t one of the standard metrics for determining TV ratings. The key number is average audience. For Super Bowl 50, the average audience was 111.9 million and the rating was 46.6.
Using the standard, industry-recognized measurement, the audience for Super Bowl 50 did not set a record. The record came a year ago, when 114.4 million tuned in on average during Patriots-Seahawks, generating a rating of 47.5.
The decision to make the audience seem bigger than it was obscures the fact that the audience was the smallest since Super Bowl XLVII. But to admit that would be to admit that a sport that prides itself on constant growth has seen only the second shrinkage of Super Bowl audience in a decade, based on the total numbers published by SportsBusiness Daily.
Thus, as the sport gets bigger and bigger every year, the average audience for the Super Bowl didn’t get any bigger in 2016. It got smaller. Which probably isn’t the way the NFL wanted to cap a full season of hyping the 50th Super Bowl in league history.