NEW YORK – The real fall television season – football season – has come roaring back.
Seven months after the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl win became the most-watched TV program ever in the United States, the National Football League scored impressive ratings across the board for the first week of its season.
Fox’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles was seen by 28 million people, the most for a Sunday afternoon game on the opening week of a season, the Nielsen Co. said.
There were similar stories for prime-time games. Thursday’s rematch of January’s NFC championship between the Saints and Minnesota Vikings had 27.5 million viewers, the most reached during the 14 years the league has done a Thursday night opener. The 25.3 million who watched NBC’s Dallas-Washington matchup represented the most-watched Sunday night game.
The NFL, its sponsors and the television networks spent $50 million promoting the “back to football” weekend, which included a New Orleans concert featuring Dave Matthews and Taylor Swift that drew 200,000 people.
“It’s a simple thought that really captures an emotional moment that happens this time of year – at the same time you go back to school, go back to college and back to work, you go back to football,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s marketing director.
The league had some compelling opening-week matchups, with 11 of the 16 games decided by seven points or fewer.
Other factors help pull fans together, including the rapid increase in homes with big-screen, high-definition television sets, which intensify the sports experience. The NFL finds that social media has been a boon, too. Fans texting each other or posting notes on Twitter or Facebook increase interest in the games, Waller said.
The rise in fans playing in fantasy football leagues also has gotten fans more into the games, he said.
In an unusual step for competitive networks, CBS and Fox personalities appeared on NBC’s Thursday kickoff schedule promoting the games they would show that weekend.
“Like all of these things, there’s probably a confluence of factors” that has driven viewership, he said.
The football games enabled NBC to crush its competition in the prime-time ratings competition.