As we discover far too often, history loves to repeat itself – in the NFL and otherwise.
That was the case for Sunday Night Football’s season kickoff between the hometown Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears on NBC on September 12.
Sure, even with the Covid-19 Delta variant seemingly everywhere, there were actual fans in the seats at SoFi Stadium this year, unlike the season-opening SNF game in 2020. However, once again, the matchup was played in the City of Angels, once again the Rams won (34-14), and once again NBC took a viewership drubbing.
With the final numbers now in, the primetime NFL battle drew an audience of 17.6 million on NBC, according to Nielsen. That’s a slip of about 4% from the 2020 season opener and a new multi-year low for the network and league’s mothership show.
In fact, the 2021 SNF opener takes the troublesome decline mantle from the 2020 SNF opener. That Rams-Dallas Cowboys face-off had been the least-watched SNF in over a decade on linear TV.
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Compared with the September 9 primetime kickoff game between Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cowboys, SNF was down a hard 28% in sets of eyeballs. That’s about a further 5% decline from the what the 2020 SNF had from the 2020 kickoff.
Now, there are always factors to take into consideration in such matters when it comes to the powerhouse that is still live NFL games on broadcast networks.
For one thing, Southern California was having another one of those near perfect days weather-wise, which likely saw some of Rams fans not exactly glued to the tube. Additionally, coming off a strong 9/11 remembrance-focused 60 Minutes (10 million viewers) that was delayed by NFL overruns, CBS had Big Brother (3.7 million). Also, the CW had the MTV Video Music Awards this year. Admittedly, not a big draw with around 700,000 watching, but in play.
Part of the SNF decline may have also come from where football fans were putting their focus on Sunday. With 20 million viewers and busting more than a couple of records, CBS’ afternoon broadcast of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 33-29 victory over the Cleveland Browns was the most watched show on any network Sunday, NFL or otherwise.
Sunday Night Football actually moves up to 18.4 million viewers when you factor in steaming on Peacock and others. On the other hand, even with all the spotlight of a season opener, NBC can take small solace that its 2021 SNF debut was up about 6% from the Rams and Bears’ last SNF battle in Week 11 of the 2019 season.
Now, we’ll see how the Chiefs do up against the Baltimore Ravens on September 19, which will be right up against the 73rd annual Primetime Emmys on CBS.
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