The NFL is still the strongest
sports franchise, according to analysts -- even though it dipped last year in overall viewership. Total viewers on its five national TV networks were down 2.1% to 17.5 million from 2010 -- per
analysis from Horizon Media via Nielsen data. Each NFL game averaged a 6.5 rating among 18-49 viewers, down from a 6.6 the year before.
The best numbers came from NBC's "Sunday Night Football" package of games -- 21.5 million. NBC was down a bit -- 1.4% from 2010. But NBC averaged an 8.4 rating among 18-49 viewers, up from 8.3 the year before.
Fox was next for its National Football Conference package of games -- 20.1 million viewers -- almost unchanged from the year before, down 0.1%. It averaged a 7.3 rating among 18-49 viewers, also up from a 7.1 the previous year.
CBS, which has smaller markets for the American Football Conference games, slipped 1.5% to 18.4 million viewers. It earned a 18-49 rating of 6.5, down from a 6.6 number.
The biggest decline occurred at ESPN -- off 9.6% to 13.3 million viewers. It registered a 5.4 adult 18-49 rating, down from a 5.9 number the year before. The biggest gainer was another cable network, the NFL's own NFL Network -- up 10.8% to 6.2 million. It averaged a 2.4 rating among 18-49 viewers, up from a 2.2.
The best-rated NFL regular-season game was the Thanksgiving Day game on CBS, Miami-Dallas, taking in 30.9 million viewers. NFL Network continued to show improvement with its most-viewed game between San Francisco and Baltimore on Thanksgiving -- reaching 10.7 million viewers, a record for the network.