NFL Broadcasts Win Even When They Lose

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The NFL just laughs at television's ratings problems.

On Sunday, the National Football League got an average of 8.5 million people to watch its preseason Hall of Fame Game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills on NBC. The sloppy 17-10 win for the Giants saw audience numbers slide more than 20% from the 2013 Hall of Fame Game, which would make the show runners of just about any other program nervous about their future with the network.

But the NFL doesn't offer just any program: It's offering a near-guaranteed prime-time ratings win with every game. The audience for this early preseason matchup filled with backup players auditioning for roster spots and playing to an irrelevant result was watched by more people than any other program on television Sunday night. It beat CBS' 60 Minutes (8 million viewers) and absolutely flattened CBS' Big Brother and Unforgettable (6.5 million and 5.7 million viewers, respectively); Fox's The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad reruns (roughly 2 million apiece); and ABC's Wipeout and Rising Star (3.7 million each).

There wasn't a whole lot of refuge to be found on cable and satellite, either. HBO's True Blood only brought in 3.4 million viewers while the biggest multichannel show of the night -- TNT's The Last Ship -- only managed 4.1 million viewers. By comparison, a NASCAR race earlier that afternoon on ESPN averaged 4.3 million viewers.


Maybe there's somebody at NFL headquarters who's upset that the Giants and Bills couldn't generate as much interest as the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins did when they drew more than 10 million viewers for last year's Hall of Fame Game. For a league that drew 11.7 million viewers to watch a Pro Bowl with no kickoffs, a shorter play clock and a whole lot of two-minute warnings, 8.5 million viewers is almost anemic. However, that's more than the roughly 8 million viewers that Thursday Night Football averaged on the NFL Network. That was good enough to get CBS to pay $275 million for just one season of Thursday Night Football this year.

Also, keep in mind that this year's Hall of Fame Game's 2.8 rating among the coveted 18-49 was nearly 50% higher than that of Big Brother, more than double that of True Blood and nearly three times that of 60 Minutes. Basically, young viewers love football and don't deem many other programs -- or sports -- worthy of their time. The average 17.8 million fans who tuned into NFL games last fall couldn't muster similar enthusiasm for National Basketball Association matchups (1.4 million per game), Major League Baseball games (690,000 per game) or National Hockey League faceoffs (500,000 per game).