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NFL conference title games take unexpected ratings dip

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes

The National Football League’s bullish story on US television that has lasted the entire season hit a sizable speed bump during the league’s conference championship games on January 19.

CBS Sports drew an average of 41.1m viewers for the Kansas City Chiefs’ triumph in the AFC Championship game over the Tennessee Titans during the early window game, 7 per cent below the draw Fox Sports average last year in the same time slot for a New Orleans-Los Angeles Rams matchup.

Fox Sports, meanwhile, fell even harder, drawing an average of 43.56m, when incorporating all its broadcast and streaming platforms, for the late window NFC Championship game between San Francisco and Green Bay. The figure is 20 per cent below the average CBS Sports drew in that time slot for last year’s AFC title game between New England and Kansas City.

Collectively, the conference title games drew their smallest audience 2009. And that performance represented a marked turn from a 5 per cent improvement year-over-year in overall regular season TV ratings in the US for the league, with the playoffs prior to last weekend performing at a similar pace.

But several factors contributed to the decline. In the NFC title game, San Francisco jumped to a commanding 27-0 halftime lead en route to an eventual 37-20 victory, depressing viewer interest in the second half of the game.

Also, last year’s conference title games involved two of the 10 largest US media markets, including Los Angeles at No. 2. This year only had one such large-scale media market, the sixth-ranked San Francisco, as well as a Tennessee team that has a relatively small national following.

Still, the games represented the largest audiences on US television, regardless of genre, since Super Bowl XLIII last February. Kansas City and San Francisco will now meet in the next Super Bowl Feb. 2 in Miami.