Do NFL Football Ratings Increase in a Recession?

October 15, 2009 at 4:38 PM 1 comment

Someone asked me if NBC’s Sunday Night NFL Football ratings this year were  up over last year locally in the same way they are nationally.  As I looked into the ratings, my pleased answer was “Yes”.

Ratings for both the key demos of Adults 25-54 and Adults 18-49 are up over this time last year (up 7% and 11% respectively).  On average, NBC has gained two share points in the Tampa market over last year’s Sunday night delivery.  It appears that NBC took those share points from a combination of FOX and ABC, both of which are down two share points apiece in their Sunday night prime.

Overall, we are seeing an estimated 265,000 adult viewers tune in to watch NFL Sunday Night Football on WFLA each Sunday night this season, up 11% over last year.

The inevitable follow up question happened. Why?  I can’t answer for sure by just looking at the Nielsen ratings, but I have a couple of theories:

1. My main theory has to do with the recession. In this recessionary age where people do not have discretionary income to attend many live sporting events, people will turn to their comfortable favorites – events like televised pro football games.  Families can gather around the television, have a good time, and need not spend a dime.   

Take what this Baltimore Sun blog says: “The thinking is that just as lavish Hollywood film productions soared at the box office during the Great Depression of the 1930s, televised National Football League games, which offer the same kind of escape, might be more attractive to viewers and advertisers than at any time in recent memory.” (  

Or, as this article from The Washington Times notes: “There is no rule that says a recession should prevent people from watching football from their couches.  So while the NFL may be nervous about the impact of the economic crisis on everything from attendance, sponsorships and the cost of its debt, it can take heart in the knowledge that its television ratings remain, by far, the highest in all of American sports. “ (

2. My secondary theory has to do with the performance of our own local NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our team currently stands with a 0-5 record – a dismal showing. I expect to see football ratings for all the networks continue to grow if our home town team continues to perform poorly.   Without a local team to rally around, I would expect many come-from-elsewhere-replanted Floridians to start showing more and more interest in their home teams from outside this market – thus why we see games for teams in the northeast (New York Giants, for example) do so well.

3.  Lastly, perhaps NBC has a better lineup of teams this year. This is 100% a guess on my part, as I don’t really follow sports and I couldn’t tell you the popularity of these teams listed from Adam!  However, if you a sports fan, I’ve included the specific teams that have played so that you may be able to infer something from the lineup versus last year.  Perhaps any of you out there with a greater knowledge of sports than me can help me shed some light on this aspect.

NBC 2009 NFL Sunday Night Football A25-54 Ratings

  • Bears vs Packers (9/13/09)         7.9
  • Giants vs Cowboys (9/20/09)    10.8
  • Colts vs Cardinals (9/27/09)      8.2
  • Chargers vs Steelers (10/4/09)  8.9
  • Colts vs Titans (10/11/09)           7.8

NBC 2008 NFL Sunday Night Football A25-54 Ratings

  • Bears vs Colts (9/7/08)                9.5
  • Steelers vs Browns (9/14/08)    8.9
  • Cowboys vs Packers (9/21/08)  9.2
  • Eagles vs Bears (9/28/08)            8.5
  • Steelers vs Jaguars (10/5/08)    6.3
  • Patriots vs Chargers (10/12/08)  6.4

Entry filed under: Television.

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