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Championship Sunday Presents Ratings Test For The NFL

Jason Barrett

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Usually the AFC and NFC Championship games are saved for the elite quarterbacks. The NFL is used to seeing Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger on Championship Sunday, but with three of the final four quarterbacks being Case Keenum, Nick Foles and Blake Bortles, what will that do for the league’s television ratings?

Entering the divisional round of the playoffs, the NFL had a chance to see Matt Ryan vs Drew Brees and Tom Brady vs Ben Roethlisberger on Championship Sunday. While the league enjoyed the exciting finishes the games provided, they have to be concerned with what the end results mean for next week’s ratings.

With a significant decline in television ratings for two consecutive years, Championship Weekend and the Super Bowl provide a chance for the NFL to rebound and reaffirm its popularity. For the NFC Championship, the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles bring with them the 15th and 4th largest local television markets respectively, according to Nielsen estimates. However, in terms of the larger audience, the quarterback matchup between Case Keenum and Nick Foles is one of the least attractive championship games the league has seen in recent years regarding their national popularity.

For the AFC game, New England and Jacksonville’s local markets are the 9th and 42nd largest in the country. The NFL is grateful to have the love ‘em or hate ‘em New England Patriots led by Tom Brady still playing and needs the polarizing franchise in the Super Bowl for all of their provided story lines.

Richard Deitsch of SI provided ratings from the previous six Championship Sundays in yesterday’s Media Circus article.

Date: Jan. 22, 2017
Early game: Falcons-Packers (Fox): 46.3 million viewers
Late game: Patriots-Steelers (CBS): 48.0 million viewers
Average viewership: 46.903 million

Date: Jan. 24, 2016
Early game: Broncos-Patriots (CBS): 53.3 million viewers
Late game: Panthers-Cardinals (Fox) 45.7 million viewers
Average viewership: 49.700 million

Date: Jan. 18 2015
Early game: Seahawks-Packers (Fox): 49.84 million viewers
Late game: Patriots-Colts (CBS): 42.14 million viewers
Average viewership: 46.151 million

Date: Jan. 19, 2014
Early game: Broncos-Patriots (CBS): 51.3 million viewers
Late game: Seahawks-Niners (Fox): 55.9 million viewers
Average viewership: 53.697 million

Date: Jan. 20, 2013
Early game: Niners-Falcons (Fox): 42.0 million viewers
Late game: Ravens-Patriots (CBS): 47.1 million viewers
Average viewership: 44.824 million

Date: Jan. 22, 2012
Early game: Patriots-Ravens (CBS): 48.7 million viewers
Late game: Giants-Niners (Fox): 57.6 million
Average viewership: 53.976 million

There is no consistent decline with these ratings, the numbers change based on the teams/markets involved and how close the game is late. The highest rated game was between two large markets, New York and San Francisco, a game that went into overtime. One of the lowest rated games had the Patriots and Colts, a blowout between the 9th and 28th largest television markets.

Last week Commissioner Roger Goodell said he wasn’t concerned about their ratings decline.

“We always want ratings to go up, but we’re 37 of the top 50 shows, which is higher than ever,” said Goodell . “We’re likely to be the No. 1 show on Fox — excuse me on all of television, the Fox Sunday afternoon game. Sunday night, prime time is for the seventh year in a row the No. 1 show. Thursday Night Football is No. 2. I think dominance of the NFL in television is still very clear.”

The league still generates higher ratings than other sports and television shows, but that doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing a decline that’s cause for concern. According to Sports Business Daily, the Wild Card Games had a double digit decrease from the previous year’s television ratings.

Early returns for the Divisional Round games showed a continued dip. Sportstvratings.com reported a 17.4 rating for the Falcons Eagles game, down from an 18.2 last season. Last year’s Packers Cowboys game was the highest rated divisional game ever, even with the fantastic finish to last night’s Vikings-Saints game the ratings are expected to show a large drop based on the teams’ national following.

The AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Jaguars on CBS has a 3:05 start time, with the FOX broadcast of Vikings vs Eagles getting the late window at 6:40pm ET.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

Sports TV News

Al Michaels: Condensed Prep Time For Thursday Night Football ‘A Downside’

“It’s not that they don’t want to be with us, but they’re condensed too, so there’s less time to give to us.”

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There were bound to be unexpected hiccups and unintended consequences as Al Michaels moved to Thursday Night Football with Amazon Prime Video.

He told The Boston Globe Thursday that one of the downsides of the week’s schedule is less prep time with the teams playing in the game.

“When we go to see the teams, it’s not that they don’t want to be with us, but they’re condensed too, so there’s less time to give to us,” Michaels said. “And all the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve built some great relationships with coaches and players and GMs and owners and you name it, and I don’t get that much time to spend with them anymore. That’s a downside part of it for me. Some of the best stories you get come from those relationships.”

Michaels has raised eyebrows this season while not being shy about his disdain for some poor matchups early in the schedule. However, he now understands that there are quality games as the season approaches its close.

“The schedule was a little leaky with the Carolina-Atlanta game and a couple of other games that we’ve had, but now we’re positioned for a nice run down the stretch,” said Michaels.

The 78-year-old was also asked how he remains energetic and passionate for the job he’s held for so long.

The games are exciting. I love sports. You don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no script. And unscripted television is the greatest.”

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Sports TV News

Jimmy Pitaro: Reaching Younger Audience A Priority for ESPN

“The thing that keeps me up at night is how do we reach the younger audience. As an industry in general, we need to figure out how to be more relevant to younger people.”

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Many in the media industry have voice concern that millennials and Gen Z aren’t consuming traditional media outlets like previous generations. ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said it’s a priority for the network.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is how do we reach the younger audience,” Pitaro said, quoted by Morning Consult sports business reporter Mark J. Burns. “As an industry in general, we need to figure out how to be more relevant to younger people.”

Pitaro made the comments at Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators conference Wednesday. It is a continuation of comments he has made in recent years.

In 2018, Pitaro said at ESPN’s upfront “I think we are doing a fantastic job serving the sports fanatic,” said Pitaro. “What about the casual sports customer? Are we doing all we can to serve him or her?”.

In 2019, Pitaro said it was “all hands on deck” to reach a younger audience and women. “We have to be open and go to where our customers are,” he said in regards to reaching younger viewers on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

Earlier this year, Pitaro added that ESPN won’t be leaving linear television anytime soon.

“What I will tell you is that as I sit here right now, that business is still incredible,” Pitaro said. “We serve the sports fan anyway and at any time. I know there are a lot of people that still want ESPN in that traditional ecosystem.”

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Sports TV News

Don Mattingly Joining Blue Jays Staff After YES Network Courtship

The former Dodgers and Marlins manager had been mentioned as a someone YES Network was interested in potentially hiring to be an analyst.

Jordan Bondurant

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The New York Yankees regional sports network can take Don Mattingly off its talent wish list. Mattingly was announced Wednesday as a bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays starting in 2023.

The former Dodgers and Marlins manager had been mentioned as a someone YES Network was interested in potentially hiring to be an analyst.

But Mattingly told Andrew Marchand of The New York Post this week that he had another opportunity in the works but wouldn’t elaborate.

YES also has been considering luring Yankees legend and Hall of Famer Derek Jeter into broadcasting. But no formal talks have taken place.

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