It’s still early, but the kickoff of the NFL season did not see another downward ratings spiral in the opening weekend.
The average audience for the games across the four networks — CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN — was 16.4 million viewers, about even with the first week of the 2017 season.
After two straight years of significant audience declines in the opening weekend, a tie is probably as good as a win for the dominant TV sports property, which has seen its popularity wane.
The new NFL season began amid concerns over fan disaffection from player protests during the national anthem, growing competition for viewers’ attention, injury concerns and boredom over lengthy games.
The early good news for the league is that two of the broadcast windows for Week One of the 2018 NFL season saw a boost in viewers compared with last year.
The regional games airing Sunday afternoon on CBS averaged 17.1 million viewers, up 29% from 2017. Regional games on Fox averaged 12.5 million viewers, up 11%.
Fox’s late Sunday afternoon national game — the Carolina Panthers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys — averaged 23.3 million viewers, a gain of 2% over the network’s opening week in 2017.
Last season, the opening weekend numbers were down 13% overall, as many viewers were drawn to coverage of Hurricane Irma. That followed an 8% decline in the 2016 season, when viewers were becoming increasingly transfixed by extensive cable news coverage of the presidential campaign.
Although the overall average for the week remained steady, there was a falloff in the prime-time games.
NBC’s broadcast of the season opener on Thursday scored 19 million viewers, down 13% from 2017. That game, in which the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons, 18-12, did not start until after 9 p.m. on the East Coast because of a weather delay.
NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” contest between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears drew 22.1 million viewers, down 9% from last year. Some fans may have checked out early when the Bears took a 20-0 lead at halftime. The Packers came back to win, 24-23, in the second half.