We previously passed along a report about a supposed 80 percent increase in TV viewership for NFL games in the United Kingdom this season. But it turns out that report was spinning the NFL’s UK ratings in a more positive light than is warranted.
A reader who tracks NFL viewership on UK television at NFLUK.com contacted us to point out that the numbers being used to peddle a narrative of a significant ratings increase in the UK are misleading. Those ratings refer to the cumulative total number of viewers who watched all NFL programming in the UK this season as opposed to last season — but this season there’s more NFL programming available in the UK than there was last year, thanks to new highlight shows on BBC. So it’s no surprise that the cumulative total viewership is higher.
A better apples-to-apples comparison for TV viewership in the UK is how this year’s first London game, Colts-Jaguars, fared on BBC2 compared to last year’s Bills-Jaguars game in London. And on that score, the NFL isn’t growing in London: The Colts-Jaguars game drew 351,000 viewers on BBC2, a decrease compared to the 381,000 viewers for Bills-Jaguars last year on BBC2. This year’s Colts-Jaguars game did draw a larger audience than last year’s other early London game on BBC2, Jets-Dolphins, although that game’s ratings were lower because it aired at the same time as the Rugby World Cup.
Whether the NFL ever becomes appointment viewing for large numbers of UK fans remains to be seen. Right now, in a country of about 65 million people, less than 1 percent watch a typical NFL game.