The first five weeks of this year, the NFL continues to see rebounding viewership from its sharp declines two years ago -- up 6% to 16.8 million Nielsen viewers per game.
Season-to-date, through five weeks, CBS is 10% higher, while Fox is has risen 7% and NBC is 4% higher, according to MoffettNathanson Research. ESPN has seen modest declines of 2% so far.
The most-improved NFL package is “Thursday Night Football” (on Fox), which is up 16%, while Sunday afternoon games (CBS and Fox) are 7% higher, “Sunday Night Football” (NBC) has risen 3%, and “Monday Night Football” (ESPN) is down 2%.
Other special games, including the season opener, are up 17%.
Over the last two weeks, the NFL has seen big games posting more than 24 million viewers, including the Green Bay Packers' win over the Dallas Cowboys (24.5 million on Fox) this past weekend. The week before, on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football), the Dallas Cowboys-New Orleans Saints posted 24.1 million viewers.
ESPN pays the highest annual cost for the NFL -- $1.9 billion per year. Fox is at $1.1 billion for Sunday afternoon games, followed by CBS at $1 billion, also for Sunday afternoon. NBC is at $960 million per year for “SNF” and Fox, for “Thursday Night Football,” comes in at $660 million.
All current TV sports rights contracts for the NFL expire in 2022, except for ESPN’s “MNF,” which expires in 2021.
Two years ago in 2017, all regular-season NFL games were down 9% in viewership. In 2018, they rose 4%.