TV Ratings: NFL Kickoff Down From Last Year But Still Strong

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers throws a pass against the Denver Broncos - H 2016
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Football returned to NBC on Thursday night, heralding the new broadcast season before things really kick into gear on Sept. 19.

The NFL season opener, a Super Bowl 50 rematch between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, earned an overnight 16.5 rating among households. That's down from the 17.7 rating for the comparable outing last year, when the New England Patriots faced the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the 29 share is the second best for an NFL kickoff ever, after last year's game.

According to NBC's total audience delivery metric, 25.4 million people tuned in to watch the game. And it wasn't exactly a rematch. The game, which saw the Broncos win 21-20, was Trevor Siemian's first as the Broncos' starting quarterback after Peyton Manning's retirement with his second and final Super Bowl victory earlier in the year.

2015 set a lofty bar for the NFL kickoff. On the highly publicized heels of "Deflategate," the game featured Tom Brady and the New England Patriots facing the Pittsburgh Steelers after courts threw out his four-game suspension. It brought in a near-high for a season opener with 27.4 million viewers and an average a 10.3 rating among adults 18-49. (The game initially pulled a 17.7 overnight rating among households.)

Season kickoffs haven't been dependably rising for the NFL. The current high bar is 2010, which brought 27.5 million viewers. 

Though it was played on Thursday, the season opener does fall under the banner of NBC's Sunday Night Football — a brand that's only become more valuable to the network. The most recent season of Sunday Night Football averaged 21.4 million viewers and a 7.4 rating among adults 18-49. Not only do both of those numbers represent modest lifts compared to the previous season, when the flagship averaged 20.6 million viewers and a 7.3 rating in the key demo, they made Sunday Night Football the undisputed king among in broadcast television.

As for Thursday, the third night of weekly NFL play is again simulcasting on CBS and NFL Network — with NBC cashing in on a few games later in the season, per the latest contract with the league. The first week's matchup is the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills.