TV viewing habits shows how the NFL is still as dominant as ever

  • Forty of the top 50 most-watched sporting events in 2018 were NFL games.
  • Nothing came close to topping the Super Bowl, which had more than double the amount of viewers of the second most-watched event of the year – also an NFL game.
  • From December 24-30, even with many TV ratings down, nine of the top 10 most-watched programs were football games – six college football games and three NFL programs.

There isn’t much evidence that football, particularly the NFL, is dying in the U.S.

According to Sports Media Watch, 40 of the 50 most-watched sports events in 2018 were NFL games. Eight of the top 10 most-watched events were also NFL games. The Winter Olympics and college football were the only other sports to make it into the top 50.

The 2017 Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots dominated every other event, registering 103.3 million viewers. The Patriots’ AFC Championship game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars came in second with 44.08 million viewers.

The five next most-watched events were NFL games, followed by the College Football Championship between Georgia and Alabama, then the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. Then 15 of the next 20 most-watched events were all NFL games.

No other sport topped 19 million viewers, with Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors coming closest with 18.47 million viewers, according to Sports Media Watch.

Zooming in further, football still has a stranglehold on TV, even when ratings are down. According to the Associated Press, New Year’s Eve TV ratings were down across the board. But over the week of December 24-30, ESPN’s prime-time ratings topped all networks.

College football ruled in the last week of the year, with the semifinal between Alabama and Oklahoma coming in at No. 1. Nine of the top 10 most-watched programs were football games, with the NFL taking three of them. The latter is still a strong number, considering Week 17 featured many games with teams locked into the playoffs or out altogether.

After two years of declining ratings, the NFL bounced back this year. Beyond the ratings themselves, the league and sports continues to be one of, if not the most popular thing on television.