Richard Justice: How much do we love the NFL? Try 82 of the 100 highest-rated TV shows in 2022. (The Dallas Cowboys had 4 of the top 5 this season.)

General view of the field as the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals warm up before kickoff of Super Bowl 56, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Nfl Super Bowl 56 Los Angeles Rams Vs Cincinnati Bengals Feb 13 2022 0247 Syndication The Enquirer

Richard Justice: How much do we love the NFL? Try 82 of the 100 highest-rated TV shows in 2022. (The Dallas Cowboys had 4 of the top 5 this season.)

   Maybe we should stop thinking of Super Bowl Sunday as a national holiday. Besides, hasn’t it always been as much about the wings and guac as the football? Or the point spread.

   Nope. It’s way bigger than that. Last year’s Super Bowl had — checks notes — 99.2 million viewers. That’s almost double the second-highest rated television show of 2022.

   And that one was also an NFL game.

   Yes, it’s way too narrow to say the NFL owns one day a year. The NFL owns lots of them. For instance, Sundays and Mondays. Thursdays, too. Occasionally Saturday.

   Every year or two, we write the NFL’s obituary. Yet even after all the coverage of head injuries, even after the political gestures turned off some fans, the NFL remains spectacularly popular. Expanded legalized gambling is part of the equation, but it has to be way more than that.

   We can’t get enough of it. That’s the bottom line. Of the 100 highest-rated television shows in 2022, 82 of them were NFL games, which breaks the previous record of 75 in 2021, according to numbers compiled by Sportico.

   The NFL had nine of the 10-highest-rated television shows of 2022. Only President Biden’s State of the Union Address cracked the Top 10 (it was seventh).

   We also can’t get enough of the Dallas Cowboys, who played in four of the five-highest-rated NFL games during the 2022 season. Their Thanksgiving Day contest against the Giants had 42.1 million viewers, the highest-rated regular season contest in NFL history. (By comparison, the 2022 Astros-Phillies World Series averaged 11.78 million viewers.)

   Another indication that the NFL owns more than Super Bowl Sunday: This season is down to four division contests this weekend, two conference championship games next weekend, and the Super Bowl on February 12.

   Last season, these final seven games were among the 11 highest-rated shows of 2022. In order:

   1. Super Bowl 56, 99.2 million viewers.

   2. NFC Championship Game, 50.2 million.

   3. AFC Championship Game, 47.9 million.

   4. Bill-Chiefs AFC Divisional Game, 42.7 million.

   8. Rams-Bucs NFC Divisional Game, 38.1 million.

   9. 49ers-Packers NFC Divisional Game, 36.9 million.

   11. Bengals-Titans AFC Divisional Game, 30.8 million.

   Throw in that Cowboys-Giants Game — in fifth place — and last season’s six Wild Card Games were ranked sixth, 12th, 14th, 16th, 21st and 33rd.

   That last contest — Cardinals versus Rams, ranked 33rd — still had 23.1 million viewers, which was more than College Football’s Georgia-Alabama National Championship Game (22.6 million). Major League Baseball can’t even dream of an audience that large.

   NFL viewership declined slightly from 2021 to 2022, from an average audience of 17.1 million to 16.7 million. However, that drop-off probably could be traced to the NFL awarding its full Thursday night package to Amazon instead of the NFL Network and Fox.

   “The league’s done a great job evolving the game to be compatible with television,” Patrick Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive turned media consultant, told The Athletic in September. “Everything the league does is about television. They’re married. TV helped birth the NFL, and now the NFL sustains TV.”

   More than any other sport, the NFL has worked tirelessly to make the game appealing to television viewers. In that way, the NFL got it in a way others didn’t.

   The late Tex Schramm was one of the league’s early proponents of television. While other teams resisted the idea of playing on Thanksgiving, Schramm saw it as a spectacular vehicle for promoting the Cowboys and the NFL.

   And the league has never resisted change, from incorporating instant replay into the viewing experience, to down-and-distance graphics, to slow motion to mic’d up players and coaches.

   Also, the NFL adopted a revenue model that allowed small-market teams to compete with large-market clubs. This week’s four games features, not only teams from Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, and San Francisco, but also Buffalo, Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati. In that way, hope springs eternal in every market.

   “It guaranteed, at least at that level, an opportunity for competitive balance,” Michael MacCambridge, author of the 2004 book “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation,” told The Athletic. “ … as the TV money started growing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there already was a framework that the Green Bay Packers could compete with the New York Giants. That became a crucial component of the growth that followed.”

   No other sport came close to the NFL’s dominance, even as television audiences splinter to an assortment of streaming services and cable options.

  Perhaps the NFL’s closest competition is from college football, which landed five shows in the top 100.

  Don’t look for anything to change in 2023. For one thing, we love our football. For another, the sport has never been more compelling, as evidenced by last weekend’s Wild Card games in which four of the six contests were one-score games.

   Now let’s order those hot wings and get that guac recipe out. Enjoy!

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1 Comment

  • 99 mill is a big number, but I wouldn’t be surprised if millions are from overseas. I have a German friend in Frankfurt who’s far more loyal a Cowboys fan than I am. He’s definitely drinking the Kool-Aid.

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