Pandemic-Plagued NFL Viewing Is Down Vs. 2019

Just two weeks to go before the end of the regular season, the NFL continues to see 10% lower TV viewership on average for nationally televised games versus a year ago. We can blame the COVID-19 pandemic.

Games averaged 15.1 million viewers through 15 weeks (December 21), when looking at Nielsen’s live program-plus same-day time-shifted viewing. It averaged 16.7 million over the same time period a year ago.

There were 15 games posting 20 million more viewers this year-to-date -- versus 26 games with 20 million or more a year ago over the same time period.

One of the biggest losers is NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” down a steep 17% to 16.4 million.

NBC, and many other networks, have seen major postponements and rescheduling of games throughout the season -- due to players testing positive for COVID-19, which affects viewing data. Analysts also point to lower ratings due to the lack of live fan excitement in stadiums during games.



One highly touted Thanksgiving day game on NBC -- Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh -- was eventually played on a Wednesday afternoon after its intended Thanksgiving scheduling. It pulled in a low 10.7 million viewers.

Three other major franchises -- Sunday afternoon games on Fox and CBS and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” -- have done somewhat better. Fox’s major late-afternoon national game is down 6% to 18.9 million viewers, while CBS’ national game is 2% lower to 18.5 million and ESPN has slipped 3% to 11.6 million.

“Thursday Night Football” games airing on both Fox and NFL Network are down 11% to 13.1 million viewers.

Another TV measurement company,, says that from September 1 through December 22, total NFL football programming pulled in 119 billion TV ad impressions -- down from 151.3 billion impressions in 2019.

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