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.