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NFL’s 2020 opener sees audience dip of 11 per cent

Facing unprecedented sports competition with the industry’s readjusted game schedules due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the opening game of the National Football League’s 2020 season saw a double-digit percentage ratings drop.

The September 10 opener between the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans drew a total, cross-platform audience of 20.3 million viewers in the US, down 11 per cent from a comparable figure of 22.7 million for the 2019 NFL opener.

As the game, won by the Chiefs 34-20, was backed by an aggressive company-wide marketing blitz from NBCUniversal and featured a wide array of social justice messages, it also faced unprecedented levels of competition from other major American team sports.

Going up against a rare US “sports equinox” created in part by the pandemic in which the NFL, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball all had games in action that same evening, as did Major League Soccer and the Women’s National Basketball Association, the NFL audience suffered somewhat as a result.

The Chiefs-Texans game, however, still easily positioned itself as the most-watched sporting event in the United States since the Chiefs’ victory in Super Bowl LIV in February, and the largest single-network audience for any US programming since the 2020 Academy Awards, also in February. It was also the first NFL game of any type played since the Super Bowl as the league’s entire preseason was canceled due to Covid-19.

Streaming of the game, meanwhile, across NBC Sports and NFL Digital platforms and Verizon Media mobile properties also drew an average minute audience of 970,000 viewers, the highest-ever total for an NBC NFL game excluding Super Bowls and up 55 per cent from the comparable figure in 2019.

Kansas City, not surprisingly, led all individual US markets with a local rating of 47.8, followed by Houston at 20.6 and Denver at 18.8.

The ratings for the league’s opener do not include out-of-home viewership, which is expected early this week is now part of official national viewership figures in the US. The inclusion of that out-of-home viewership is expected to render significant impacts upon the sports industry.