FOX Benefits From Small Thursday Night Football Ratings Spike In 1st Year Of Deal
Players like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would like to get rid of the Thursday Night Football concept because of the lack of sufficient rest in between games. Others, mostly focusing on the business side of the sport, considered whether decreased ratings would lead to the demise of Thursday night matchups.
One study shows that in 2017 the average number of viewers of Thursday Night Football on NBC, CBS and NFL Network in the United States was 10.94 million. That was a steep drop from the average 12.44 million viewers per Thursday Night Football game in 2016.
The Thursday Night Football matchups torpedoed the NFL brand, said The Undefeated’s Brando Simeo Starkey in December 2017. NFL veteran cornerback Richard Sherman described Thursday Night Football games as a “poopfest,” referring to the poor quality of play because of the shortened rest, echoing the sentiments of Roethlisberger.
Yet, the NFL saw a 4% increase in Thursday Night Football viewers in 2018.
Factoring digital services like NFL digital and Amazon, the NFL says that the average audience was 14.9 million per Thursday Night Football game. Using those same metrics, the league says that 2017 actually had 14.2 million viewers per game. No matter the metrics used, 2018 demonstrated that Thursday Night Football could rebound from depressed 2017 statistics.
The biggest benefactor of a rebound may actually not be the NFL, but FOX. The broadcast network paid $3.3 billion for Thursday Night Football rights through 2022 and ponied up the money after a less-than-favorable 2017 season of ratings.
FOX will go into next season with some momentum, as the final Thursday Night Football game of the 2018 season was a sensational affair between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. That game had an average audience of 18.1 million viewers across all platforms, which was up 67% as compared to 2017’s Week 15 matchup between the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts.
A lot of the success of Thursday Night Football likely revolves around the matchups and whether anything is on the line for the teams participating. However, other external factors such as whether there is a Presidential Election absolutely play a roll as well. For now, the NFL can celebrate a gain over 2017’s numbers.