The Eagle has crash-landed as NFL Kickoff Game ratings hit a 10-year low

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Eagles running back Jay Ajayi crosses the goal line for a two-point conversion during the NFL season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi crosses the goal line for a two-point conversion during the NFL season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. Credit: Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A 45-minute weather delay and a sloppily contested, low-scoring game conspired to put a dent in the ratings for the first official NFL broadcast of the 2018-19 season, as the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night served up the smallest audience for a curtain-raiser in a decade.

According to Nielsen fast national data, NBC's coverage of the NFL Kickoff Game averaged 19 million TV viewers and an 11.2 household rating, marking the lowest turnout for a season opener since 2008, when the New York Giants and Washington eked out just 13.5 million viewers and an 8.1 household rating. That long-ago game was hampered by an early start time; NBC pushed the 2008 Kickoff Game from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. EDT in order to accommodate the news division's prime-time coverage of the Republican National Convention.

Toss in the 570,000 average-minute audience the game delivered via NBC's various digital platforms, and overall deliveries for Thursday night's all-avian battle were down 12 percent compared to the year-ago Chiefs-Patriots blowout, which averaged 22.2 million TV and digital viewers. Household ratings fell 11 percent.

NBC ad sales execs waiting for the Nielsen report to come in assumed that the Falcons-Eagles slog would struggle to find its footing, given the inordinately long delay and the sheer torpor that seemed to have left both teams playing in quicksand. The first touchdown of the new NFL season wasn't scored until 10 minutes into the third quarter, this after even the most stalwart fans had already endured a first half in which Atlanta posted a 6-3 lead over the defending Super Bowl champs.

Also not doing much to convince casual viewers to stick around until the very end was a particularly enervating penalty situation. Officials reached for their yellow flags 26 times over the course of the game; by way of comparison, the Falcons and Eagles together were flagged on just eight occasions during their NFC Divisional Championship Game in January.

NBC has broadcast the NFL Kickoff Game each year since 2006, when it first rolled out its "Sunday Night Football" franchise. The high-water mark for a Thursday night opener came in 2010, when the Saints and Vikings scared up 27.5 million viewers and a 16.5 household rating. Interest in that NFL matchup was primed by the teams' thrilling NFC Championship contest that preceded it by some eight months. The Saints earned their first-ever Super Bowl trip with their 31-28 overtime win.

The NFL's low is everybody else's high

If NFL antagonists are certain to hop all over Thursday night's ratings, they do so at the exclusion of context. The 19 million TV viewers NBC averaged over the course of the 3-hour game dwarfs its entire stable of scripted fare, which during the 2017-18 season averaged 4.68 million live-same-day viewers. In other words, a lackluster football game that didn't wrap on the east coast until four minutes after midnight more than quadrupled the deliveries for NBC's stable of 19 comedies and dramas.

Isolate the audience served up by crown jewel of NBC's scripted lineup (11.1 million viewers, "This Is Us") and the NFL Kickoff game improved on that drama's season average by 71 percent.

Among the highest-spending, most visible brands that bought time in the NBC broadcast were Hyundai, Toyota, Verizon, Subway, Nike, Playstation, Geico, Samsung Mobile, Volkswagen and Chevrolet. Per iSpot.tv estimates, Hyundai delivered the most commercial impressions of any brand (98.1 million), while runner-up Geico racked up 76.8 million impressions.

Nike's splashy new "Dream Crazy" spot, featuring Colin Kaepernick, generated 16.1 million impressions.

In addition to all the paid commercial messaging on display, NBC also used the NFL opener to help steer people to its new fall programming slate. The Peacock aired multiple spots for its freshman hospital drama "New Amsterdam" and the "Lost"-in-reverse "Manifest," while also ceding airtime to returning favorites "The Voice," "This Is Us" and "Sunday Night Football."

Buyers said that the going rate for a 30-second spot in the NFL Kickoff Game worked out to between $675,000 and $700,000 a pop.

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