The National Football
League’s TV ratings look to be back on the upswing.
That’s according to UBS, which uses the NFL’s preseason
viewership as an early indicator for how many eyeballs the
league’s more coveted regular-season broadcasts will attract.
NFL higher-ups could use some good news after ratings of
regular-season games in 2016 fell 8% on a year-over-year basis,
according to UBS analyst Doug Mitchelson. Fortunately for them,
preseason matchups drew 12% more viewers this year, signaling a
rebound to come for the most lucrative professional sports league
in the US.
As highlighted in the chart above, the preseason is finishing on
a high note, with ratings for the third warm-up game increasing
7% year-over-year. The third game is usually the last one in
which starters play, making it the last truly meaningful data
What’s more, last Sunday’s primetime game saw a 16% viewership
bump from 2016, despite going head-to-head with the ratings
juggernaut “Game of
But why all the fuss over preseason ratings? Do they really
Absolutely, says UBS, which notes a correlation between preseason
and regular-season viewership dating back years. This is
particularly true when comparing ratings on the major networks
CBS, ESPN, Fox, and NBC. (Other games can be found on NFL Network
or local affiliates.)
In the chart below, you’ll see this year’s preseason uptick,
which foreshadows a recovery in regular-season ratings.
It should be noted that while a downward trajectory in NFL
ratings is always a source of worry for the league, the sport
still dominates the airwaves. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is
always among the most watched TV events during a given week, and
the 2016 Super Bowl was the most watched broadcast last year —
handily beating out the presidential debates.