NFL Boasts Rise In Ratings, Driven By ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”

The league announced a 10 percent overall growth in viewership; no network grew more than ESPN’s 16 percent

An extra week of games, close finals and a year without an election helped lift the NFL to its highest regular-season ratings in six years.

The 272 regular-season games averaged 17.1 million viewers across television and digital platforms, representing a 10 percent increase from 2020 and the highest average for the league since 2015.

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No one grew more than ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” package, up 16 percent from the previous year. Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” saw the biggest increase, with its 19-game package seeing a 16 percent increase from last year, averaging 14.18 million viewers. This is the best regular-season ratings for the network since 2010 and third-best since 2006, when the package moved to cable from ABC.

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The NFL’s global viewership was expected to increase after the 2020 season was played amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with empty stadiums presenting a strange viewership dynamic, and many people’s habits changing. The first half of the season also took place in the midst of a presidential campaign, when many turned to cable news channels.

Also, it was the first season in which the league played a 17-game regular season campaign. Despite the additional encounters, there weren’t too many beatdowns. According to the league, 64 percent of games this season were within a touchdown in the first period.

NFL games ranked in the Top-16 and 91 of the 100 most-watched shows on television during the season, according to Nielsen. The Dallas Cowboys were involved in five of the top 10 most-watched games, including a Week 12 Thanksgiving matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders that averaged 40.8 million viewers. It was the most-watched regular-season game on any network in 31 years, and only one of two since 1988 to average at least $40 million.

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