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Championship Sunday Presents Ratings Test For The NFL

Jason Barrett

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Usually the AFC and NFC Championship games are saved for the elite quarterbacks. The NFL is used to seeing Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger on Championship Sunday, but with three of the final four quarterbacks being Case Keenum, Nick Foles and Blake Bortles, what will that do for the league’s television ratings?

Entering the divisional round of the playoffs, the NFL had a chance to see Matt Ryan vs Drew Brees and Tom Brady vs Ben Roethlisberger on Championship Sunday. While the league enjoyed the exciting finishes the games provided, they have to be concerned with what the end results mean for next week’s ratings.

With a significant decline in television ratings for two consecutive years, Championship Weekend and the Super Bowl provide a chance for the NFL to rebound and reaffirm its popularity. For the NFC Championship, the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles bring with them the 15th and 4th largest local television markets respectively, according to Nielsen estimates. However, in terms of the larger audience, the quarterback matchup between Case Keenum and Nick Foles is one of the least attractive championship games the league has seen in recent years regarding their national popularity.

For the AFC game, New England and Jacksonville’s local markets are the 9th and 42nd largest in the country. The NFL is grateful to have the love ‘em or hate ‘em New England Patriots led by Tom Brady still playing and needs the polarizing franchise in the Super Bowl for all of their provided story lines.

Richard Deitsch of SI provided ratings from the previous six Championship Sundays in yesterday’s Media Circus article.

Date: Jan. 22, 2017
Early game: Falcons-Packers (Fox): 46.3 million viewers
Late game: Patriots-Steelers (CBS): 48.0 million viewers
Average viewership: 46.903 million

Date: Jan. 24, 2016
Early game: Broncos-Patriots (CBS): 53.3 million viewers
Late game: Panthers-Cardinals (Fox) 45.7 million viewers
Average viewership: 49.700 million

Date: Jan. 18 2015
Early game: Seahawks-Packers (Fox): 49.84 million viewers
Late game: Patriots-Colts (CBS): 42.14 million viewers
Average viewership: 46.151 million

Date: Jan. 19, 2014
Early game: Broncos-Patriots (CBS): 51.3 million viewers
Late game: Seahawks-Niners (Fox): 55.9 million viewers
Average viewership: 53.697 million

Date: Jan. 20, 2013
Early game: Niners-Falcons (Fox): 42.0 million viewers
Late game: Ravens-Patriots (CBS): 47.1 million viewers
Average viewership: 44.824 million

Date: Jan. 22, 2012
Early game: Patriots-Ravens (CBS): 48.7 million viewers
Late game: Giants-Niners (Fox): 57.6 million
Average viewership: 53.976 million

There is no consistent decline with these ratings, the numbers change based on the teams/markets involved and how close the game is late. The highest rated game was between two large markets, New York and San Francisco, a game that went into overtime. One of the lowest rated games had the Patriots and Colts, a blowout between the 9th and 28th largest television markets.

Last week Commissioner Roger Goodell said he wasn’t concerned about their ratings decline.

“We always want ratings to go up, but we’re 37 of the top 50 shows, which is higher than ever,” said Goodell . “We’re likely to be the No. 1 show on Fox — excuse me on all of television, the Fox Sunday afternoon game. Sunday night, prime time is for the seventh year in a row the No. 1 show. Thursday Night Football is No. 2. I think dominance of the NFL in television is still very clear.”

The league still generates higher ratings than other sports and television shows, but that doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing a decline that’s cause for concern. According to Sports Business Daily, the Wild Card Games had a double digit decrease from the previous year’s television ratings.

Early returns for the Divisional Round games showed a continued dip. Sportstvratings.com reported a 17.4 rating for the Falcons Eagles game, down from an 18.2 last season. Last year’s Packers Cowboys game was the highest rated divisional game ever, even with the fantastic finish to last night’s Vikings-Saints game the ratings are expected to show a large drop based on the teams’ national following.

The AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Jaguars on CBS has a 3:05 start time, with the FOX broadcast of Vikings vs Eagles getting the late window at 6:40pm ET.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

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Dick Vitale Is Cleared to Return to Work in the Fall

“The surgery that you had recently to reconstruct your vocal cords went beautifully.”

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Dick Vitale
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

ESPN basketball analyst and Hall of Fame personality Dick Vitale is cancer-free after being diagnosed with vocal cord cancer, but he is still recovering from vocal cord surgery he had earlier in the year. Vitale received six weeks of radiation treatment and was hoping to return to basketball broadcasts last November, but the plans changed when Dr. Steven Zeitels determined that he needed more vocal rest. This eventually led to a four-hour vocal cord surgery, after which he remained on vocal rest to determine its effectiveness. Vitale was in Boston to meet with Dr. Zeitels, who analyzed his progress and gave his subsequent evaluation, in turn delivering news that basketball fans had hoped they would be able to hear.

“The surgery that you had recently to reconstruct your vocal cords went beautifully,” Dr. Zeitels said, speaking to Vitale. “I’m very optimistic in the fall – it’s encouraging that you can get back to work here. I see absolutely no evidence of the cancer whatsoever, so I think this is a terrific visit, and I’m really optimistic that the future is really bright for what you want to do [with a] return to the court.”

Over the last several years, Vitale had fought against melanoma and lymphoma amid a global pandemic and always remained hopeful that he would return to calling basketball games for ESPN. Vitale made a return to the broadcasting booth during the 2022 college basketball season and is now looking to make it back again. In a previous interview with Barrett Sports Media, Vitale said that he hopes to call college basketball games at 100 years old and is motivated by the winning formula of passion, pride and perseverance.

Vitale understands that Dr. Zeitels wants him to minimize what he does up until the fall, utilizing a gradual assimilation into speaking more. By the time the fall comes around, it seems to be entirely plausible that he could be back calling college basketball games again.

“You can work with this, but you don’t want to take on too much,” Zeitels said. “When you take on too much, vocal problems can get worse quickly, so as long as you’re graded in your approach and you’re thoughtful about things, I think the future looks really bright.”

Vitale, a former college basketball coach, accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2022 ESPYS and discussed the importance of raising money to fulfill Valvano’s dream to beat cancer in his acceptance speech. Outside of his broadcasting work, he hosts the annual Dick Vitale Gala to benefit the V Foundation, which raised $24.8 million for pediatric cancer research in the past year.

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‘Hard Knocks’ to Feature AFC North Division for In-Season Edition

“We are ecstatic to expand the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe with our partners at NFL Films to the always thrilling AFC North division race.”

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Hard Knocks AFC North
Courtesy: HBO, NFL Films

HBO and NFL Films have announced that Hard Knocks will spotlight the AFC North in its first in-season edition following an entire division. The 18-time Emmy Award-winning series will feature the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, documenting their journeys during the final six weeks of the NFL regular season and subsequent playoff run for the division champion and teams that qualify in the Wild Card.

Among the athletes within the series are quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, along with other stars such as Derrick Henry, Ja’Marr Chase, Myles Garrett and TJ Watt. This new iteration of the series will take the air on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 9 p.m. EST/PST on HBO and available to stream on Max. New episodes of the series will be available to watch on Tuesdays through the end of the NFL regular season and continue into the NFL Playoffs.

“Last season the AFC North became the first division ever to have all four teams finish with a winning record, making it the perfect place to launch this new approach to ‘Hard Knocks,’” Keith Cossrow, vice president and head of content for NFL Films, said in a statement. “We thank the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers for the opportunity to showcase some of the greatest rivalries in football and present the intensity of a playoff chase from all four corners of this incredibly competitive division.”

The Ravens were the first team featured on Hard Knocks when the training camp series first premiered in 2001. In the summer of 2009, the Bengals debuted on the program and reappeared in the 2013 edition as well. The Browns were on the show in 2018, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to be making the first appearance in the history of the organization. Last season, the Ravens won the division for the first time in four years after the Bengals had secured the division crown in the previous two seasons.

The in-season edition of Hard Knocks spanning an entire division officially renders the series into a venture with coverage of all facets of the NFL season – the offseason, training camp, regular season and the playoffs. HBO and NFL Films announced last month that the New York Giants would be part of the new offseason edition of the show debuting on Tuesday, July 2. Following the conclusion of that series, the training camp edition of the show will return with the Chicago Bears premiering on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

“We are ecstatic to expand the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe with our partners at NFL Films to the always thrilling AFC North division race,” Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, co-executive vice presidents of documentary and family programming at HBO, along with Bentley Weiner, vice president of sports documentaries at HBO, said in a statement. “In 2024, ‘Hard Knocks’ will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. What a year it will be on HBO and Max for football fans everywhere.”

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NHL Stanley Cup Final Game 4 Averages 3.1 Million Viewers on ESPN Networks

Through its first four games, the Stanley Cup Final is averaging 3.3 million total viewers, which is up 11% from last year’s matchup.

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ESPN on ABC
Courtesy: The Walt Disney Company

The Stanley Cup Final has extended to another game after the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers on Saturday night to attain its first win of the series. While Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Stuart Skinner seek to keep the Oilers’ season alive on Tuesday night, the Panthers aim to close out the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. The Panthers, however, will need to overcome giving up eight unanswered goals to the Oilers in Game 4 in order to achieve that task.

The Game 4 win-or-go-home matchup averaged 3.1 million viewers on ABC, according to Nielsen Media Research, which is up 20% from the comparable game last year. ESPN’s broadcast of the Stanley Cup Final on ABC peaked at 3.52 million viewers and attained a 1.4 rating, the latter of which is up 15% from last year’s Stanley Cup Final Game 4 between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights televised on TNT, TBS and truTV.

Although the game elicited year-over-year gains, viewership is down 33% from the last Stanley Cup Final Game 4 on ABC, which was a matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning in 2022. Moreover, the rating declined by a full share from the 2.4 share the matchup garnered last year. The fourth game of this year’s series is down from Game 2, which averaged 3.56 million viewers with a 1.9 rating, along with the 3.35 million viewers and 1.8 rating for the third game, according to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch.

Through its first four games, the Stanley Cup Final is averaging 3.3 million total viewers, which is up 11% from last year’s matchup in this regard. An average of 1.2 million viewers within the Persons 18-49 demographic are watching the Stanley Cup Final, a 25% year-over-year increase as well. Viewers within the Persons 18-49 demographic equated to an average of 1.1 million for Game 4, representative of a 20% year-over-year increase.

The Stanley Cup Finals on ESPN platforms have averaged 1.6 million total viewers and 633,000 viewers within the Persons 18-49 demographic, a year-over-year increase of 38% and 28% in those categories, respectively. The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) is nearing the conclusion of its third season of NHL broadcasts since reacquiring broadcast rights to the league and will have four more seasons to go on its current seven-year media rights deal.

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