NFL Wild Card Weekend Hits Multiyear Ratings Low

CBS Sports - Nick wild card game
CBS Sports/Nickelodeon

The opening round of the NFL playoffs drew a significantly smaller audience than it did a year ago. CBS drew the biggest audience of the wild-card weekend, with an assist from Nickelodeon.

The expanded wild-card round featured six games on Jan. 9 and 10, two more than in past years. Those six contests averaged about 24.3 million TV viewers — way above the league's regular season average of 15.4 million, but also well below the comparable weekend in 2020. (Digital and streaming audience figures weren't available at publication time; in addition to league and network properties offering streaming, NBC's Sunday primetime game was also available on Peacock.)

Excluding the two extra games — a 1 p.m. ET broadcast Saturday on CBS and NBC's Sunday primetime telecast — the four contests that aired in the same windows as those a year ago averaged about 25.2 million viewers, down about 18 percent from the 30.7 million who watched wild card games last year. It was the smallest combined viewership for wild-card weekend since at least 2014.

The biggest audience of the weekend tuned in to CBS and Nickelodeon late Sunday afternoon. The two ViacomCBS outlets drew a combined 30.65 million viewers for their coverage of the New Orleans Saints' 21-9 win over the Chicago Bears. That was the biggest Sunday wild card audience for CBS Sports since 2014.

Nickelodeon's telecast, which was geared toward a younger audience, drew 2.06 million viewers — the biggest audience for any Nick program in almost four years. The telecast featured Nick-specific graphics, including virtual slime cannons that detonated after touchdowns, and announcers who took more time to explain rules and strategies in play on the field.

NBC's Sunday night game and ABC and ESPN's Sunday afternoon simulcast — a "mega-cast" that also included alternate feeds on ESPN2 and Freeform — tied for the second-largest audience, each drawing 24.78 million viewers. The Freeform telecast, meant to draw the Disney-owned cabler's young and female-skewing viewers, managed a scant 67,000 viewers, while ESPN2's analytics and betting-centric feed brought in 92,000.

Fox's late-afternoon Saturday game brought in just under 24 million viewers; NBC's Saturday primetime contest drew 21.37 million; and CBS' early afternoon Saturday game averaged 20.09 million. By comparison, the four games a year ago averaged between 26 million and 35 million viewers.