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Led by a big tune-in for NBC’s Sunday Night Football and the most watched Monday Night Football telecast in more than a decade, the league averaged about 18.5 million viewers across its seven broadcast windows in week one. That’s a 3 percent improvement on the opening weekend last year and the best beginning to a season since 2016. The league says 121 million people in the United States watched at least a few minutes of NFL telecasts between Thursday and Monday.
The Sunday night contest between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys averaged 23.3 million viewers to lead the week’s slate. Monday Night Football brought in 19.84 million viewers — the biggest audience for the franchise since 2009 — across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.
Five of the seven broadcast windows improved over their year-ago numbers, with only NBC’s kickoff game Thursday night and CBS’ late-afternoon broadcast on Sunday declining. Losses there were offset by gains in the other games, all of which improved by at least 9 percent over last year’s numbers.
Week two of the season will see the first Thursday Night Football game exclusive to Amazon’s Prime Video. The league isn’t expecting the streaming-only games (which will also air on local stations in teams’ home markets) to match the Thursday numbers for Fox and the NFL Network last year, NFL head of communications Jeff Miller told reporters Wednesday, but is looking to the future as viewers continue to shift their media habits.
“It’s really a long-term strategic decision for the league,” Miller said, comparing the Amazon partnership to the NFL bringing games to a then eight-year-old ESPN in 1987. “We don’t have a number in mind, but our expectation is the ratings may very well not reach what Fox got [in 2021]. We believe this is the right thing to do in the long term, whether or not the number is what Fox got a year ago.”
Prime Video carried a preseason game in August that averaged about 1.04 million viewers, on par with some NFL Network preseason telecasts. The streamer also had an exclusive regular season game late in the 2020 season, which averaged 5.9 million viewers.
Sept. 14, 11:15 a.m. An earlier version of this story misstated which NFL opening weekend games were down year to year.
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