Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast drew fewer than 100 million viewers, making it the least-watched Super Bowl in over a decade.
Although COVID-19 restrictions kept the game’s audience mostly homebound, viewers failed to tune in to Sunday’s National Football League championship game, though it was still the highest-rated program on television Sunday night.
“Super Bowl LV attracted 96.4 million viewers for ViacomCBS on Sunday, the company announced Tuesday, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9,” according to CNBC. “It’s the lowest watched Super Bowl since 2007, when the Indianapolis Colts played the Chicago Bears, another CBS broadcast. That game attracted 93.1 million viewers, according to Octagon’s media division data provided to CNBC.”
“Research firm Nielsen, which handles TV viewership data responded on Monday afternoon to inquires about the delay in releasing the information,” the outlet noted. “In a statement to Deadline, a spokesperson said the metrics would include out of home (OOH) numbers. Those numbers represent TVs in places like bars and restaurants and augment viewership data for the NFL.”
Unfortunately for the NFL, OOH numbers are low; although many states now allow indoor dining — a practice that was nearly eliminated during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 — restaurants are still severely limited in how many people they can welcome to dine and drink indoors. It’s also unlikely that people gathered in large numbers to watch the big game together; the federal government and most state governments discouraged hosting Super Bowl parties while COVID-19 remains a threat.
CBS did tell CNBC and Deadline that it saw a growth in the number of people watching the game online. The “company said the stream averaged 5.7 million viewers per minute,” CNBC reported, noting that the CBS All Access app had difficulty halfway through the game, which could have turned off some online-only viewers.
For the NFL, dismal Super Bowl ratings cap off a season of dismal numbers. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the league’s television ratings dropped 10% from 2019, “ending two years of audience growth.”
“The regular season that wrapped on Jan. 3 dipped by about 10 percent in TV viewership compared to 2019, stopping a two-year streak of audience growth for the NFL,” the outlet noted. “Across all of the NFL’s broadcast partners — CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and the league-owned NFL Network — games averaged about 14.9 million viewers, vs. 16.5 million a year ago, per a Hollywood Reporter review of Nielsen ratings. The 2020 figure comes in a bit below 2017 when the regular season averaged 14.96 million viewers.”
The Hollywood Reporter notes some reasons for the decline, including a number of missed and rescheduled games. The league’s traditional Thanksgiving game — generally the highest-rated game of the season — was postponed for nearly a week over an outbreak of the coronavirus, games were played in unexpected time slots, and, in one case, a game was broadcast only online.
The drop in audience, though, also seems to correlate to an increase in political messaging from the NFL. From the start of the 2020 season, the league embraced a social justice theme, and during Sunday’s broadcast, the NFL pledged to continue its anti-racism work through the off-season.