Deflategate Reversal is Music to NFL Broadcasters' Ears

The NFL by the Numbers; Pats Are the NFL's No. 4 Draw

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady exits federal court in New York last month, before his suspension was overturned.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady exits federal court in New York last month, before his suspension was overturned. Credit: Louis Lanzano/Bloomberg
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Now that a federal court judge has overturned the National Football League's four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, it appears the four-time Super Bowl champ is in little danger of missing out on any regular-season action. And while fans from Presque Isle to Providence are celebrating the reversal, Mr. Brady's reinstatement is particularly reassuring to the NFL's TV partners.

According to Nielsen data, the Patriots in 2014 were the fourth biggest TV draw, averaging 21.7 million viewers and a 12.9 household rating in its seven nationally televised games.

New England's ratings performance in national TV games topped the average draw for all 70 coast-to-coast broadcasts by two full ratings points, or 18%.

And the Pats participated in last year's highest-rated regular season broadcast, a late national Nov. 30 showdown with Green Bay that delivered a 17.6 household rating on CBS.

To put that 17.6 rating in perspective, the Pats-Packers duel beat 4 of the 10 NFL playoff games and very nearly matched the 18.2 household rating that ESPN delivered with the first broadcast of the College Football Championship game on Jan. 12.

With the Deflategate charges effectively sidelined, Mr. Brady has been cleared to play in the first regular season NFL broadcast of the season. The Pats host a banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday in NBC's annual "NFL Kickoff" game. Last year's inaugural contest, a 36-16 Seattle beatdown of Green Bay, was NBC's most-watched, highest-rated regular-season game of 2014, averaging 26.9 million viewers and a 15.5 rating, up 7% and 4%, respectively from the year-earlier 25.1 million viewers/14.9 rating delivered by a Ravens-Broncos showdown.

Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman and the rest of the gang from Seattle were the top-rated franchise in 2014, pounding out a 13.8 household rating over the course of nine nationally broadcast games. (That tally includes four prime-time games -- one of which was a Thanksgiving scrap with the 49ers broadcast by NBC -- plus four 4:20 p.m. games on Fox and another on CBS.)

While the defending NFC champs took top honors in the all-important household ratings department, Seattle trailed Dallas in overall deliveries. (Unlike than the age demos that hold sway over nearly all entertainment-based TV transactions, the networks make their football performance guarantees to advertisers based on the household numbers.) The Cowboys were the most-watched team, averaging 24.1 million viewers to the Seahawks' 23.8 million, but came up short with an average 13.6 HH rating. Denver finished second on the season with a 13.7.

Other big draws include Green Bay, which averaged a 12.6 rating in seven national games, San Francisco (12.4), Indianapolis (11.5) and the New York Giants (11.3).

Dallas last season appeared in the most nationally televised games (10), edging Seattle and San Francisco (9). On the other end of the exposure spectrum, the following underperforming small-market teams were granted the league minimum of one national TV appearance: Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Minnesota and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The NFL killed two birds with one stone by scheduling the lowly Jaguars to face the Tennessee Titans on NFL Network's "Thursday Night Football." That Dec. 18 game was the least-watched, lowest-rated national broadcast of the season, drawing a mere 4.85 million viewers and a 3.4 rating.

Meanwhile, with less than a week before the 2015 NFL campaign kicks off in Foxboro, the NFL's national broadcast partners aren't the only ones looking forward to the return of New England's future Hall of Famer. In their first three locally televised games on Boston CBS owned-and-operated station WBZ-4, the Pats averaged a gaudy 31.6 rating, which translated into a 64% market share.

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