NFL Preseason Wrap: Viewership Drops For Most Preseason Games on National TV

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Fewer viewers tuned into most of the NFL preseason games on NBC, ESPN, FOX and CBS this year.

Eight of the eleven NFL preseason games on the four major league broadcast partners suffered declines in viewership. The only exceptions were Panthers/Jets last Sunday, Cowboys/Raiders on August 13, and a 49ers/Broncos game that could not be compared to last year.

NBC was the top network for preseason coverage. The aforementioned Panthers/Jets game led the way with a 6.2 rating and 9.819 million viewers last Sunday night — up 10% in ratings and 6% in viewership from Saints/Raiders a year earlier.

The network also drew strong numbers for Colts/Steelers on August 19 (6.0, 9.506M), but that game was down 6% and 11%, respectively, from last year’s Chargers/Cowboys matchup.

The top non-NBC game was 49ers/Broncos on FOX last Sunday, a late afternoon game that earned a 4.5 and 7.1 million. The other two preseason games on FOX drew less impressive numbers — a 3.1 and 4.747 million for Bengals/Falcons on August 16, and a 2.6 and 3.980 million viewers for Lions/Ravens the following night.

Both primetime games on FOX had declines in viewership compared to last year. Bengals/Falcons suffered a whopping 45% decline, while Lions/Ravens was off a modest 4%.

CBS also had declines for preseason coverage. Bears/Giants on August 24 drew a 3.3 and 5.153 million viewers, down 20% in ratings and 24% in viewership, and Texans/Saints the next night earned a 3.2 and 5.125 million — down 14% and 8%, respectively.

Finally, ESPN also had a fairly rough preseason, as three of the network’s four games suffered declines. The only game to have an increase was, not surprisingly, the only game on the network’s schedule to feature the Cowboys.

While year-to-year comparisons were not available for NFL Network games, those telecasts easily brought up the rear during the preseason. The top NFL Network audience (1.971 million for the Hall of Fame Game) trailed the least-viewed game on the other networks.

On Thursday night, opposite political coverage and college football, NFL Network attracted the two smallest national TV audiences of the preseason — 726,000 viewers for Chiefs/Packers, and just 375,000 for Broncos/Cardinals.

Overall, coverage of the NFL preseason averaged approximately 3.4 million viewers across NBC, ESPN, FOX, CBS and NFL Network. When games on NFL Network are excluded, preseason coverage averaged almost 5.7 million.

Viewership For Nationally Televised NFL Preseason Games
Asterisk (*) indicates game was joined in progress

Date Time (ET) Away Home Net Viewers (000)
Sun., 8/5/12 8:00 PM Saints Cardinals NFL Network
1,971
Thu., 8/9/12 8:00 PM Packers Chargers ESPN
3,386
Fri., 8/10/12 7:30 PM Bengals Jets NFL Network
1,100
Sat., 8/11/12 7:00 PM Texans Panthers NFL Network
817
10:00 PM Titans Seahawks NFL Network
738
Sun., 8/12/12 1:30 PM Rams Colts NFL Network
943
Mon., 8/13/12 8:00 PM Cowboys Raiders ESPN
5,371
Thu., 8/16/12 8:00 PM Bengals Falcons FOX
4,747
Fri., 8/17/12 8:00 PM Lions Ravens FOX
3,980
Sat., 8/18/12 7:00 PM Giants Jets NFL Network
1,896
10:03 PM* Cowboys Chargers NFL Network
1,384
Sun., 8/19/12 8:00 PM Colts Steelers NBC
9,506
Mon., 8/20/12 8:00 PM Eagles Patriots ESPN
5,066
Thu., 8/23/12 8:00 PM Cardinals Titans ESPN
3,362
Fri., 8/24/12 8:00 PM Bears Giants CBS
5,153
Sat., 8/25/12 4:00 PM Colts Washington NFL Network
1,313
8:00 PM Texans Saints CBS
5,125
Sun., 8/26/12 4:00 PM 49ers Broncos FOX
7,100
8:00 PM Panthers Jets NBC
9,819
Wed., 8/29/12 7:30 PM Patriots Giants NFL Network
955
Thu., 8/30/12 7:00 PM Chiefs Packers NFL Network
726
11:00 PM Broncos Cardinals NFL Network
375

(Preseason numbers from Sports Business Daily [1], [2], The Futon Critic [1], [2], TV By the Numbers [1], [2], [3])

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  • Fman

    Not very many viewers for the Colts/Redskins game, considering that matchup was between Luck v. RG3. Are the Redskins not a big TV draw anymore?

    • Paulsen

      I would attribute the low numbers to the early Sunday afternoon timeslot and the fact that it aired on NFL Network. That was also the final day of the Olympics, so there was plenty of competition.