As Competition Flags, NFL Wild Card Ratings Slide 7%

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Christine Michael #32 of the Green Bay Packers runs for yards against the New York Giants during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 8 in Green Bay. The Packers defeated the Giants 38-13.
Christine Michael #32 of the Green Bay Packers runs for yards against the New York Giants during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 8 in Green Bay. The Packers defeated the Giants 38-13. Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The NFL postseason got off to a choppy start last weekend, as ratings for the four less-than-enthralling Wild Card games were down 7% compared with the year-ago playoff broadcasts.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the AFC and NFC Wild Card games averaged 30.3 million viewers and a 17.0 household rating, down from the 32.7 million viewers and 18.8 household rating served up by last season's opening round. The rate of change is consistent with the 8% drop the NFL broadcast packages sustained during the regular season.

As expected, Fox once again enjoyed the spoils of its NFC playoff package, which kicked off with Sunday afternoon's showdown between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. After a series of possessions that ended in four straight punts, Aaron Rodgers went on to light up the Giants with four touchdown passes in a 38-13 win that delivered a weekend-high 39.3 million viewers and a 21.3 household rating.

While Fox's broadcast was the only Wild Card game to post a year-over-year improvement in total deliveries -- New York-Green Bay inched up 1% compared with the 2016 Green Bay-Washington game, which averaged 38.9 million viewers -- household ratings dipped 2%.

Earlier that same day, CBS aired the first of its three scheduled NFL playoff games with the Pittsburgh Steelers' 30-12 vivisection of the Miami Dolphins. Pittsburgh's high-flying offense and huge national following helped deliver 29.9 million viewers and a 17.5 household rating, duplicating the 17.5 rating CBS hung up in its first Wild Card broadcast of 2016, a Saturday night Steelers-Bengals melee that was decided in the final minute.

When compared with the analogous time slot in last year's opening round, the CBS playoff presentation took a bigger hit (-17%, to be precise). NBC's Jan. 10, 2016, coverage of Seattle's 10-9 win in Minnesota averaged 35.4 million viewers and a 21.0 household rating.

On Saturday afternoon, the ESPN/ABC simulcast of the Houston Texans-Oakland Raiders playoff averaged 25.1 million viewers and a 14.4 household rating, with the lion's share of viewers (18.7 million) tuning in via the broadcast network. The game marked the first time the Raiders had secured a playoff berth since 2002; unfortunately, the matchup proved to be anticlimactic in the wake of Oakland quarterback Derek Carr's season-ending leg injury, and Houston easily dispatched the visitors, 27-14.

Ratings for the ESPN/ABC simulcast do not include the 210,000 viewers who accessed the game via the WatchESPN streaming app. All told, the TV deliveries for the first Wild Card game were down 1% versus the year-ago Chiefs-Texans blowout (25.4 million), while the household rating slid 3% from a 14.8.

The lone primetime Wild Card game was presented by NBC, which was saddled with yet another uncompetitive game in Seattle's 26-6 dismantling of Detroit. NBC's Saturday night broadcast averaged 26.9 million viewers and a 14.8 HH rating, down 14% and 15%, respectively, versus the year-ago Steelers-Bengals game on CBS (31.2 million, 17.5). When held up against its first playoff broadcast of 2016, the aforementioned Seattle-Minnesota squeaker, NBC's overall audience was down 24% and its average household rating fell 30%.

Per data, the top ad categories represented in the four Wild Card broadcasts were automotive, with $45.0 million of in-game spend, insurance ($26.7 million), wireless ($24.6 million) and QSR ($24.0 million).

The road to Super Bowl LI continues with the Jan. 14-15 Divisional Playoff round. Saturday's lineup kicks off with Fox's all-avian battle between the Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons (4:30 p.m.), followed by CBS's presentation of the Texans-Patriots game (8 p.m.). NBC gets the early Sunday afternoon game (1 p.m.), as the Steelers take on Kansas City at Arrowhead, and Fox will play host to what should be an absolute blockbuster as the Packers take on TV's biggest draw in the Dallas Cowboys (4: 30 p.m.).

The last time the Packers and Cowboys met in the postseason (Jan. 11, 2015), Fox's coverage averaged a staggering 44.4 million viewers and a 24.9 household rating.

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