Bucs’ rout of Chiefs earns worst Super Bowl rating since 1969

There was a relatively small crowd in the stands for Sunday’s Super Bowl. In terms of those watching on TV, it wasn’t much better.

Viewership figures for Super Bowl LV were lower than any for the game since 2006, and one important metric showed the lowest number since 1969, when Joe Namath’s New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

The considerable star power of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Patrick Mahomes was not enough to attract the kind of audience the NFL has enjoyed for its championship game over the past dozen years. While the Super Bowl continued to garner numbers that dwarf all other television programming, Sunday’s installment, in which the Bucs throttled the Chiefs, 31-9, continued a downward trend.

In an unusual move, Nielsen delayed unveiling its ratings until Tuesday, prompting speculation that the news wasn’t good for the NFL or its advertising partners. The market measurement company eventually announced Super Bowl LV “drew an average TV audience of about 92 million viewers.” The game also garnered a 38.2 U.S. household rating and was viewed in an average of 46.2 million homes.

CBS, which broadcast the game, said Tuesday the game drew 96.4 million viewers across a variety of platforms, including streaming services. CBS said its digital audience was 5.7 million, the most to live-stream any NFL game, representing a 65% increase over last year’s Super Bowl.

The network later clarified (per Sportico) that its audience for the traditional broadcast was 91.6 million. Compared with Nielsen figures for every Super Bowl telecast, this year saw a 9.6% decrease from the 101.3 million who watched the game in 2020, and a 19.9% drop from the record audience of 114.4 million in 2015, when the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in a stunning finish.

This year’s game did not provide nearly as much drama, with the Bucs taking a 15-point lead at halftime and relentlessly pressuring Mahomes into the worst performance of his NFL career. That could have contributed to the lower audience, as could a relative lack of Super Bowl parties amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, poor weather in the Northeast over the weekend figured to encourage people to stay inside and watch TV, but even in that case, consumers have a far greater variety of options than ever before. Audience figures for numerous major sports events have declined during the pandemic. Compared with the NFL, viewership for the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup finals, the World Series and the final round of the Masters took much greater tumbles from 2019 (via Sports Media Watch).

The 38.2 household rating posted by Super Bowl LV was the lowest since the 36.0 mark of Super Bowl III, famous for Namath’s guarantee of victory for the upstart AFL. Three years later, the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Miami Dolphins earned a 44.2 rating, and since then the number has never dipped below 40, apart from in 1990, when the San Francisco 49ers’ rout of the Denver Broncos drew a 39.0. Last year’s Super Bowl, in which the Chiefs beat the 49ers, got a rating of 41.6.

In terms of local markets, the overnight numbers showed that, not surprisingly, Super Bowl LV got the biggest share in Kansas City (59.9 rating, via Sports Business Daily). The Tampa-St. Petersburg market came in third at 52.3; in second was Boston (57.6), where Brady starred for two decades.

The last time, per Nielsen, the Super Bowl attracted fewer than 91.6 million viewers was in 2006, when 90.7 million watched the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seahawks in a relatively low-scoring contest. Starting in 2010, viewership topped 100 million for nine straight years. It dipped to 98.5 million in 2019, when Brady’s Patriots nipped the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl to date.

If the overall Super Bowl numbers were disappointing for the NFL, a related program Sunday was a notable success. According to the Wrap, ratings for Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XVII shot up 14% from last year, attracting an audience of 2.1 million.

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6 thoughts on “Bucs’ rout of Chiefs earns worst Super Bowl rating since 1969

  1. Well, DUH! Does the NFL (No Fans Left) still refuse to acknowledge the number of fans who left for good as soon as it genuflected to the selfish, anti-patriotic, ungracious BLM nonsense of ingrates led by the likes of Colin Kaepernick, et al? Just play football…and remind [the applicable] wealthy activist players that they are making far more money than the average fan, so the last thing that fan wants to see and hear is whining about how put-upon you perceive yourself to be, rather than respecting and being thankful for the country and culture that made your success possible.

    Or, as Author Ayn Rand might advise wealthy NFL owners with her famous quotation, “You can ignore reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”

    1. Spot on Bob, haven’t watched a game in 2 years and haven’t missed it. Hope they continue to fall with ratings.

  2. Bob P is correct. The NFL (and other professional sports, for that matter) has enjoyed and fostered an artificial image that the sport is the embodiment of patriotism and sportsmanship. Requiring the athletes to be on the field for the national anthem, when many/most are not really focused on the anthem but on the impending athletic contest and increasingly their social cause(s), has backfired (read: The Emperor has No Clothes). In fairness, many fans ignore the national anthem, too. Watch how hard the broadcasters try to find coaches, players, and/or fans who are behaving patriotically to get them on camera (ooops, KC number 95 and his chat buddy were a “fail” during the Super Bowl National Anthem – you can be sure someone caught hell for keeping them on camera as long as they were…). So the evolution….First, the owners threaten players for protesting, then, a mixed response, then a decision to leave the athletes in the locker room for the national anthem, and now, Mark Cuban deciding that the national anthem will no longer be played before his NBA Dallas Mavericks home games. Regarding sportsmanship, as trash talking has taken over sports [it used to get penalized in any sport, now it is de rigueur for the athletes to be jawing and demonstrably trash talking until too often physical hostilities break out. Watch how quickly the camera cuts away from scenes where you can see a couple players start to go at it, and how fast referees have to move in in the middle of deteriorating situations. The professional leagues are printing money, but if (esp. wealthy) fans are turned off by thuggishness, or self aggrandizing (or taunting) behaviors, they know they risk killing off the golden goose. So the league works hard with the broadcasters to avoid showing any of the ugliness. [As a side note, I wonder just how many fans would really miss the group end zone gatherings in front of the camera….?.] When I see a particularly elaborately choreographed individual or especially group routine, I wonder how much better the athletes might be playing if they had spent the time they used to practice the choreographing on game skills or studying film….

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