On Christmas, the NFL’s average audience was five times larger than the NBA’s

Los Angeles Rams vs the Denver Broncos on Christmas Day
Getty Images

The NFL vs. NBA on XMA(s) was a TKO.

In the biggest test yet of pro football’s muscle on December 25, the league for the first time ever put three games up against a five-game, all-day slate of NBA action. The audience gravitated to the game played with the oblong ball.

The widely-circulated numbers paint a very stark picture.

Packers-Dolphins: 25.92 million viewers. (This was the only game of the day between a pair of playoff contenders.)

Broncos-Rams: 22.57 million viewers. (Both teams had been eliminated from the postseason, with the Rams winning 51-14.)

Buccaneers-Cardinals: 17.15 million viewers. (The Cardinals were starting a third-string quarterback in a game between two teams under .500.)

76ers-Knicks: 4.04 million viewers.

Lakers-Mavericks: 4.33 million viewers.

Bucks-Celtics: 6.03 million viewers.

Grizzlies-Warriors: 4.70 million viewers.

Suns-Nuggets: 2.49 million viewers.

That’s an average viewership of 21.88 million for the NFL, and 4.318 million for the NBA. The NFL drew an audience more than five times bigger than the NBA’s.

And remember — the NBA games weren’t televised only on ESPN. ABC simulcast each and every one of them, in an obvious effort to boost the ratings.

What does this mean for the NFL and the Nielsen ratings of Christmas future? Look for the NFL to constantly find a way to fill the day, regardless of the day of the week on which it lands.

In 2023, it will be easy. Play a full slate of games on Sunday, December 24, and play three on Monday, December 25.

In 2024, it gets a little more complicated. Thanks to the leap year, Christmas nudges to Wednesday. How will the NFL manage the schedule to put games on a Wednesday? The best (and perhaps only) option would be to give the six Christmas teams the prior Sunday off, giving them a very late bye week — but giving them basically two half-byes, with a 10-day break and then an 11-day break.

In 2025, Christmas lands on Thursday, just like Thanksgiving. In 2026, Friday. In 2027, Saturday. In 2028, Monday.

Given the performance of the NFL with the captive audience of Christmas, look for the NFL to find a way to keep stealing Christmas away from the NBA.

And imagine how big the NFL’s numbers will be if/when the games are more entertaining than this year’s trio was.

69 responses to “On Christmas, the NFL’s average audience was five times larger than the NBA’s

  1. The NBA is dreadful to watch. Zero defense most of the time, and a bunch of overpaid average shooters who don’t wanna be coached. Ever notice that the broadcast networks go out of their way not to show the upper seating areas? It’s because they’re mostly empty!! That’s why they’ll only show you the people court side, and three quarters of the people in those seats can’t even name three players on their supposed favorite team. They’re just there to be seen

  2. With the NFL on this year, even though I didn’t care about any of the teams involved, I still watched football and didn’t turn the NBA on for one second.

  3. Dolan removing the Knicks from Comcast in the NBAs biggest market I’d costing the league viewers. It’s hurting hockey also.

  4. The NBA is a terrible product, especially in the regular season. If there is a big fan NBA fan out there, I sincerely want to know why/how the regular season is exciting to watch.

  5. So a game played once a week in a 17 game scheduled beat a game where teams play 3-4 times a week with an 82 game schedule. An individual game in the NFL having more impact. Wow!

  6. nba must have bots to boost their ratings. The real numbers are half or less what was reported. Nobody watches the embarrassment of a “sport” it’s become.

  7. An important but unmentioned fact is that the NBA regular season is five times as many games as the NFL regular season.

  8. The NBA is boring to a lot of folks. They used to go to college to learn how to play basketball. Most NBA players have talent, but they don’t know how to play the game. They also ruined the college game.

  9. Surprised it wasn’t 8-10x. I don’t see games on Wednesdays, this isn’t the MAC in college football.

  10. What was Mark Cuban’s remark about the NFL? Oh yeah, in 2014 he said the NFL was ready for implosion and fat hogs get slaughtered.

  11. The problem with the NBA is that the teams only pretend to play defense. The game has been so watered down by the rules! Traveling is so rarely called, because they instituted a rule of a player can carry the ball for multiple steps as ‘he drives to the hoop’. Go back to the days of Oscar Robinson, Earl the Pearl Monroe, etc. when the NBA was a finesse game.

  12. That’s because people who are all inside watching TV during the day don’t want to look at a basketball court for 12 hours. It’s boring and depressing. They want to look at an outside setting with green fields to remind them of being outside not to mention a football games is 10 times better than watching the NBA

  13. I was an NBA fan before I ever watched football but it’s just no comparison. It’s just not easy to lock in to with so many games being played each season.

  14. Easy to explain…Todays NBA is unwatchable. It’s amazing how many of their ‘star’ players can’t even shoot. I swear, if an NBA game broke out in my back yard, I’d throw the drapes.

  15. There’s not really any reason to play Christmas Day NFL games if Christmas falls on a Tues. or Wed. Not worth fouling up the schedule that much. From an advertising perspective (and that’s what’s paying most of the bills), the weekend before Christmas is more valuable anyway.

  16. Is ANYBODY surprised by this? The NBA has been borderline unwatchable for a very long time. Rules are optional (calls of traveling make the news, right?), superstars are thoroughly coddled by refs and announcers, and there’s as much action on Twitter as there is on the court.

  17. There are divas in every sport. But the NBA seems to be especially loaded with them. That one thing has turned me off to the NBA. College ball is better, but it’s approaching the same level.

  18. Not surprising. NBA has really dropped off in the last few years. Magic, Bird, and Jordan are all long gone. LeBron is a joke and no where near their talent.

  19. It all ended when a certain someone said he decided to ” take my talents to blah blah blah…”

    The arrogance of that statement is virtually incalculable and 95% of NBA fans tuned out right then n there.

    Owners are kidding themselves and the primadonna players are too.

  20. footballpat says:
    December 29, 2022 at 8:01 am
    So a game played once a week in a 17 game scheduled beat a game where teams play 3-4 times a week with an 82 game schedule. An individual game in the NFL having more impact. Wow!
    Would you like to compare the Super Bowl to all six games of the NBA Finals combined?

  21. The answer here is that America has shown that it can’t handle lives that matter and refuse to watch them even during the regular season of the NBA. I’ll admit that I don’t watch many NBA games until the playoffs, but the same applies to college games – too many of them.

    I did watch all of the NFL games. But then again, I’m a redneck.

  22. Lebron, Kyrie, Harden, and Simmons. You could put their on and off court antics as a good reason for the apathy towards the NBA.

  23. The Lebron era has basically made the NBA unwatchable, even a NFL preseason game would out perform a NBA final game. The only issue is the NFL and players like Russ Wilson and Kyler Murray are really trying to take the NFL game (which is getting worse every day) to what the NBA has become…diva players, only look at me and if I don’t like the coach I will have him fired and if I don’t get my way (like my offense, my own private office and private parking place that no other player can have) I will force a a trade.

  24. Basketball did it to themselves. When the players don’t play the bulk of regular season games, they are telling us the games are unimportant. If it’s not important to them then it’s not important to me.

  25. NBA is just boring and approaching wwe style competition. I can’t believe people even bet on it anymore unless u r in on the fix.

  26. Everyone is complaining about how Lebron ruined the league. When really it was the warriors with their 3 ball bs. Now all teams just try to throw up insane 3s. There is no physicality allowed in the NBA anymore. The 3 shooting and rules are what has ruined NBA for audiences.

  27. The NFL is obviously way more popular than the NBA. However, many NBA players are making 35-40 million a year guaranteed, and the NBA does have a larger international firing. The NFL is more popular, but maybe the NBA is a better run league in general, with better marketing and a stronger player/owner relationship.

  28. What did you expect??? No one can stand up to the NFL. Especially the NBA.

    It’s a bunch of spoiled, immature athletes that cry foul every time they take a shot….

  29. People keep saying LeBron ruined the NBA. It was Nike who created this mess decades ago by putting all the emphasis on individual players rather than teams. Nike created this environment and they now own the NBA, including LeBron. It is primarily a league whose sole purpose is to sell shoes.

  30. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Now THAT was basketball. Haven’t watched much NBA product since those days.

  31. If we’re being honest with ourselves however, if not for sports gambling / fantasy, those ratings would be cut in half easily. Both the NFL and the NBA. But more specifically the NFL.

  32. It worked out that Christmas fell on Sunday this year.
    Are they gonna play games on Tuesday & Wednesday when Christmas falls on those days?

  33. NBA has the same problem that the NHL has – over-exposure. MLB is even worse with 162 regular season games. It used to be a special event when the “game of the week” came on TV, not any more. It’s just another game with relatively little importance in the grand scheme of things.
    Having said that, playoffs are different. I’ll watch NHL and MLB playoffs every time. Great action, the games actually mean something, best players, best coaching, etc. The NBA not so much. “Stacked” teams became a problem along with too many unlikeable players. Not to mention it’s boring. For basketball I’d rather watch a 3 on 3 tournament.

  34. The NFL is the best product out there.I used to be into all the major sports….MLB,NHL,NBA….even the PGA and NASCAR briefly.Times have changed though.I’ll stick with the NFL.I see many people on here bashing Goodell but he’s not the boss…he’s the spokesman for the owners

  35. Hardly anyone could tell you what happened in the Christmas NBA games. My wife and daughters could tell you that Patrick Star mocked Russell Wilson after an interception.

  36. The comparison is invalid on so many levels. Level 1: The weight of 17 games is greater than the weight of 82 games. Level 2: The game is viewable weekly vs daily. Level 3: The NFL is deciding playoff seeding, the NBA is not even close to playing games that decide playoff seeding. Level 4: The NFL season is short and fans have to wait > than 1/2 a year for the next season so each game is cherished. Level 5: The NFL game winners are decided in the final 2 minutes in > than 75% of the games. I have writer’s cramp now so I’ll stop here. You get the point. INVALID comparison.

  37. ariani1985 says:
    Blame the joke known as lebron James.
    Imagine that, a Vikings fan blaming someone.

  38. Its a bad comparison, Bball teams are playing every other night or close to it. You watch the ones you can, but for most life cannot support following all of them so you do miss a bunch, especially if the games are on late at night with work in the morning. A football team only plays once a week though, and in what’s usually an easy time slot for viewers to hit, so its feasible to plan around being able to watch. Hence a football team will have a far higher percentage of their total fanbase watching a given game than a Bball teamwill. Im sure the other factors being hinted at here play s well, but the dynamic of how games are scheduled has the numbers so skewed out that gate that its an apples and oranges thing.

  39. graysobr says:
    December 29, 2022 at 1:19 pm
    Hardly anyone could tell you what happened in the Christmas NBA games. My wife and daughters could tell you that Patrick Star mocked Russell Wilson after an interception.


    In Bball on Christmas this year’s two top ranked teams faced off. One of them blew out the other.

  40. Pat’s Rule says:
    December 29, 2022 at 11:32 am
    What did you expect??? No one can stand up to the NFL. Especially the NBA.

    It’s a bunch of spoiled, immature athletes that cry foul every time they take a shot….


    Which one do you mean? Or both?

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