NEW YORK—Newly released ratings for the 2021 NFL regular season highlighted once again just how important live sports are to broadcasters. In a period of generally declining audiences, the NFL regular season games averaged 17.1 million viewers on TV and digital, up 10% from the 2020 regular season and the highest average since 2015.
The games also accounted for 48 of the top 50 TV shows during the 2021 regular season, NFL Media reported, with 370 billion total minutes consumed during the 2021 regular season, the second highest ever and up 18% over 2020.
NFL games also accounted for all of the top 16 rated TV shows and 91 of the top 100.
“Featuring incredible play on the field and close contests, the 2021 regular season proved to be one of the most exciting and exhilarating of all-time,” said Hans Schroeder, NFL executive vice president and chief operating officer, NFL Media. “This year’s schedule, highlighted by an enhanced regular season featuring 17 games, gave our broadcast partners the ability to provide fans with more football and incredible matchups than ever. We look forward to a strong finish with the upcoming postseason and Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.”
One factor helping boost viewing was a record number of close games. During the 2021 NFL regular season, there were 34 games decided by a game-winning score on the final play – the most in a single season all-time – while 49 games were decided by a game-winning score in the final minute of regulation or overtime – tied for the most in a single season all-time, the NFL reported.
Additionally, 175 games – 64% of all games – were within one score (eight points) in the fourth quarter – tied for the fourth-most all-time.
The top 10 NFL games during the 2021 regular season were:
- Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys (Week 12, CBS) – 40.8 million
- Dallas Cowboys vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Week 11, FOX) – 28.7 million
- Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers (Week 16, FOX+NFLN) – 28.6 million
- Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions (Week 12, FOX) – 28.2 million
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New England Patriots (Week 4, NBC) – 27.2 million
- Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys (Week 17, FOX) – 26.8 million
- Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers (Week 12, FOX) – 25.2 million
- Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Kickoff, NBC) – 25.2 million
- Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Week 9, FOX) – 25.0 million
- Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Week 2, CBS) – 25.0 million
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George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.
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