NFL Conference Championship Ratings Hit 11-Year Low

NFC Championship  - Raheem Mostert #31 of the San Francisco - January 19, 2020- Getty-H 2020
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The NFL's conference championship games were sacked in the ratings Sunday, falling double digits versus a year ago to their smallest collective audience since 2009.

The presence of some smaller-market teams and, particularly in Fox's primetime broadcast, a less-than-thrilling game may have all contributed to the decline. The slip on Sunday puts the 2020 playoffs slightly behind last year's average viewership, despite the first two rounds being up over 2019.

CBS' broadcast of the AFC Championship, a 35-24 win by the Kansas City Chiefs over the Tennessee Titans, averaged 41.1 million viewers, the smallest for the game since 2009. The network had the afternoon window this year, and its coverage was down about 7 percent from 44.08 million for Fox's afternoon telecast of the NFC title game last year.

In primetime, Fox Sports drew 43.58 million viewers for the San Francisco 49ers' 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers — a game that was even less close than the final score indicates, as the Niners led 27-0 at halftime and 34-7 at the start of the fourth quarter. Fox Sports' audience figure also includes a simulcast on Fox Deportes and streaming, so the Fox network-only number is 42.79 million, slightly higher than the network's  2018 primetime NFC title game, in which 42.3 million people watched the Philadelphia Eagles blow out the Minnesota Vikings. It's down by 21 percent compared with CBS' primetime AFC Championship broadcast a year ago.

Together, the two games averaged 41.95 million viewers, down about 14 percent from last year's average of just under 49 million. The last time Championship Sunday drew a smaller audience was in 2009, when the two games averaged about 39.5 million viewers.

The 10 games of the 2020 playoffs averaged 33.88 million viewers, down less than 1 percent from 34.13 million for the 2019 playoffs. Both the wild-card and divisional rounds improved year over year. Regular-season viewership improved by 5 percent.

The NFL is really only competing with itself in terms of Nielsen ratings. Sunday's games were the two most-watched programs since last year's Super Bowl, and both were more than 11.5 million viewers clear of the biggest entertainment program since then (last year's Oscars at 29.56 million).