An exciting upset victory in Super Bowl LII could not prevent NBC's telecast of Sunday's game from dropping for the third straight year and hitting a nine-year low.
An audience of 103.4 million TV viewers watched the Philadelphia Eagles win their first Super Bowl ever with their 41-33 victory over the favored New England Patriots, according to Nielsen, a 7% decline from last year for TV's biggest annual event.
NBC put the total number of people watching at 106 million when streaming on digital platforms such as NFL.com, NFL Mobile, Yahoo Sports and NBC.com are added in.
The TV audience is the smallest since 2009 when 98.7 million watched Super Bowl XLIII on NBC. The year-to-year decline is not as steep as the nearly 10% drop the NFL experienced during the regular season. But the 7% decline is likely to cause some concern for the league and its television partners.
The drop does not affect NBC financially in the short term as the advertisers who spent an average of $5 million for a 30-second commercial are not guaranteed a minimum audience. However, it could be detrimental to CBS when it sells ads for next year's game.
The NFL's regular season decline was attributed to longtime fans being upset over players protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. The league also saw viewers pulled away by cable news — which was up significantly on Sunday afternoons — and a growing number of younger fans watching online highlights on YouTube or the NFL's own Red Zone channel on cable and satellite.
The league and advertisers were hoping that the Super Bowl's celebratory tradition of the game — with its parties, slickly produced commercials and halftime show fronted by a music superstar — would insulate it from changing viewer habits and disgruntled core fans. But the 7% decline in viewership — close to the 10% drop during the regular season — suggests that was not the case.
The loss of viewers — which was only 3% in the big city markets measured by Nielsen — indicates that the NFL's troubles are more significant in the country's heartland.
To be sure, the Super Bowl remains a massive TV draw due to the large number of casual fans who tune in. The game, which has been the most watched annual TV attraction since its inception in 1967, does not face any significant competition when it airs.
The Super Bowl has delivered more than 106 million viewers annually since 2010 after hovering between 80 million to 99 million viewers in previous decades. Last year's game delivered 111.3 million viewers on Fox, a slight decline from the 111.9 million on CBS in 2016.
Even with the audience decline, Super Bowl LII is the tenth most watched TV broadcast in history.
Super Bowl LII was likely helped by the competitive nature of the game which saw a seesaw battle for the lead and an outcome decided in the final minutes. However, the final score had less of an effect on the ratings of the game in recent years as it did in previous decades.
While it may be cold comfort to the NFL, the decline could have been worse. The Super Bowl typically performs better on NBC than Fox or CBS, as the network has a stronger station lineup than the two other network rights-holders. NBC also aggressively promotes the event across other assets, such as its top-rated morning program "Today."
NBC's last Super Bowl, in 2015, was watched by 114.4 million viewers, the largest TV audience of all time. The Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in that contest.
On Sunday, NBC's heavily touted episode of "This Is Us" delivered the largest audience for a post-Super Bowl telecast in six years. "This Is Us," which began at 10:45 p.m. EST, scored 27 million viewers, a record for the program.
2:10 p.m.: This article was updated to include viewership figures from Nielsen.