The NFL has loaded several great games into the first week of the 2020 regular season. Texans-Chiefs, a rematch of a 51-31 postseason blowout, was not one of those great games. Lack of kickoff-game sizzle notwithstanding, the game delivered because pro football always delivers.
According to NBC, the opening game averaged 20.3 million viewers across all platforms, based on preliminary numbers. Of that amount, 970,000 watched the game through digital means, the highest ever for a non-Super Bowl and a 55-percent increase over last year’s 627,000 for the season opener.
The audience crossed the 20 million threshold even though the Chiefs won easily, taking a 14-7 lead in the first half and never looking back. The audience peaked at 22.0 million between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m. ET.
And the numbers would have been higher, if the matchup had been better (the Texans simply aren’t a team with a national following), if the game had been closer (the Chiefs led 24-7 entering the fourth quarter), and if 3.3 million viewers hadn’t been watching NBA or NHL playoff games, due to the unprecedented overlap of basketball and hockey postseasons with football season.
From the league’s perspective, there weren’t many options better than the Texans for the Kansas City home opener when the schedule was set. The only other compelling opponent entering Week One (some games may become more compelling as the season unfolds) would have been the Patriots, but as of early May their starting quarterback was Jarrett Stidham, not Cam Newton.
As a result, the numbers dropped from last year’s Packers-Bears showdown to start the NFL’s 100th season. Those who want to blame the reduced numbers on league, team, and player sensitivity to social justice will ignore the reality that, this year, the game simply wasn’t as attractive. So maybe, when it comes to picking the first game of the season, the defending Super Bowl champion no longer should have dibs.
Indeed, if the 2020 opener had been Buccaneers-Saints, featuring Tom Brady‘s first game with a team other than the Patriots, the numbers would have been dramatically higher.
That’s the ultimate reality when it comes to viewership. One game doesn’t define a season. Given everything that’s currently happening in the world, the fact that the NFL delivered more than 20 million viewers at the same time watching the same thing for the first time since the pandemic was declared is significant, and it cements the reality that nothing gathers a huge crowd for a live event like the NFL.