Though the NFL opened on Thursday night after a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the television ratings were not exactly a triumph. In fact, Thursday night’s ratings marked a significant low.
According to The Hollywood Reporter (THR), Thursday night football was considerably lower than last year’s game opener.
“The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs’ 34-20 victory over the Houston Texans averaged about 19.3 million viewers on NBC, according to preliminary ratings,” reported THR. “That’s down about 13 percent from the 22.12 million who watched last year’s kickoff, but ahead of the 19 million who tuned in for the 2018 kickoff.”
“The figures above do not include out of home viewing for the game, which will likely add some to the total,” writes THR. Those will be available next week. The season opener had at least one silver-lining ratings-wise: it was the “biggest single-network audience since the Oscars (23.64 million viewers) in February.”
More from THR:
Per NBC, streaming of Thursday’s game on NBC and NFL digital platforms and Verizon mobile properties averaged 970,000 viewers — the highest ever for an NFL game (excluding Super Bowls) on NBC. It was up 55 percent from the 627,000 average viewers for last year’s season opener and accounted for a little under 5 percent of the game’s total audience (excluding out of home viewing).
The only other comparable show on cable Thursday was “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, which drew 4.4 million viewers.
Though it is inconclusive if the national anthem protests contributed to Thursday’s results, NFL ratings have slowly been in decline since 2018 when the protests took center-stage. Speaking with CNBC last month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he did not believe that the current spate of Black Lives Matter protests would in any way deter viewership.
“Our ratings have really been the envy of every entertainment and sports property. We have the broadest audience; we have the best partners in all of television and media. We feel that ratings always go up and down for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We’re supporting our players, we recognize the issues … going on in our communities. That’s a platform that we want to use to make change, and we’re going to do that. We’re going to stand behind our players.”
Prior to the game on Thursday night, the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs joined arm-in-arm for a “moment of unity,” prompting a torrent of boos from the few fans that were in attendance. Despite some initial reports, the moment did not take place during the national anthem. Both the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”—what has been dubbed the “Black national anthem”—played in the lead up to kickoff.
Though the Kansas City Chiefs appeared on the field for both songs, the Houston Texans stayed in the locker room for the songs’ duration. When the Texans did emerge, they joined the players mid-field and locked arms as a show of unity. At that moment, the crowd noticeably booed.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien believed that the crowd was not booing the moment of unity and was instead booing them as a visiting team.
“I thought that that was a nice thing to do, so I’m not sure why they would boo that,” O’Brien said. “Maybe they were just booing us because we had just come on the field as the visiting team. But yeah, I thought that that was a nice gesture.”
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