Football fans across America tuned into NFL games in the largest numbers ever in 2010. According to The Nielsen Company, the 2010 regular season reached 207.7 million unique viewers, the most in history.
NFL games were watched by an average of 17.9 million viewers – up 1.3 million viewers per game from last year and the NFL's highest viewership average since 1989 (18.0 million), before the explosion of viewer choice on television and online.
All NFL television partners shared in the viewership increase. FOX, NBC, ESPN, and NFL Network each had their most watched NFL regular seasons ever while CBS had its best season in two decades.
For the first time, an NFL game was the most-watched show among all programs in each of the season's 17 weeks. NFL games accounted for the 19 most-watched TV shows among all programming last fall – up from 11 last season – as well as 28 of the top 30 shows.
NFL viewership on broadcast television continued to out-draw network primetime viewership. NFL games on CBS, FOX and NBC averaged 20.0 million viewers – 144 percent higher than the average primetime viewership among the four major over-the-air networks (8.2 million average on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC). That NFL advantage is up from an 116 percent edge last year and 61 percent edge five years ago.
For the season, NFL games were the highest rated program locally a record 90 percent of the time – topping the mark set last season (89 percent).
More 2010 NFL TV highlights (through the 2010 NFL regular season ending on 1/2/11):
- 17 NFL regular-season games were watched by 25 million viewers – nearly double the 2009 total (nine) and the most for a single regular season ever. NFL games were the only shows on TV to reach the 25 million mark in fall 2010.
- For the first time ever, a sports series topped the primetime ratings in the fall as NBC Sunday Night Football averaged 21.4 million viewers.
- FOX's Sunday National telecast (4:15 PM ET) was the most-watched show among all programs with an average of 25.9 million viewers.
- CBS' Sunday National telecast (4:15 PM ET) was the second-most-watched program among all shows with an average of 25.0 million viewers.
- ESPN's Monday Night Football was the most-watched series on cable with an average of 14.7 million viewers. ESPN's Saints-Falcons, the season finale of Monday Night Football on Dec. 27, averaged 19.1 million viewers to rank as the most-watched cable program of 2010.
- NFL Network wrapped up its fifth season of Thursday Night Football with a record average of 5.7 million cable viewers.
- The FOX Thanksgiving game (Saints-Cowboys) was the most-watched show of the fall broadcast season and most-watched Thanksgiving game in 12 years with 31.9 million viewers.
- NBC's Eagles-Cowboys game on Dec. 12 was the most-watched Sunday Night Football game ever (25.73 million viewers). Vikings-Packers on Oct. 24 (25.68 million viewers) and Cowboys-Redskins (25.3 million viewers) are the second and third most-watched Sunday Night Football games in history.
- The 2010 NFL season is the most-watched and most-viewed regular season among Hispanic viewers, African-American viewers and Women. The 2010 NFL season is the most-watched season among Kids in more than a decade (since 1997).
Following are the 20 most-watched shows of the fall TV season:
Program (Game) Viewers
1. FOX Thanksgiving Day (Saints-Cowboys), 11/25 31.9 million
2. CBS Sunday National (mostly Patriots-Bears), 12/12 30.5 million
3. FOX Sunday National (mostly Packers-Eagles), 9/12 28.0 million
4. CBS Sunday National (mostly Colts-Eagles), 11/7 27.8 million
5. CBS Thanksgiving Day (Patriots-Lions), 11/25 27.8 million
6. NBC Thursday Kickoff (Vikings-Saints), 9/9 27.5 million
7. FOX Sunday National (mostly Cowboys-Colts), 12/5 27.4 million
8. CBS Sunday National (mostly Raiders-Cowboys), 9/19 27.0 million
9. FOX Sunday National (mostly Eagles-Bears), 11/28 26.6 million
10. FOX Sunday National (mostly Cowboys-Giants), 11/14 26.2 million
11. FOX Sunday National (mostly Bears-Packers), 1/2/11 26.1 million
12. FOX Sunday National (mostly Cowboys-Vikings), 10/17 26.0 million
13. NBC Sunday Night Football (Eagles-Cowboys), 12/12 25.7 million
14. CBS Sunday National (mostly Jets-Steelers), 12/19 25.7 million
15. NBC Sunday Night Football (Vikings-Packers), 10/24 25.7 million
16. NBC Sunday Night Football (Cowboys-Redskins), 9/12 25.3 million
17. CBS Sunday National (mostly Vikings-Patriots), 10/31 25.2 million
18. FOX Sunday National (mostly Giants-Packers), 12/26 24.3 million
19t. ABC Dancing with the Stars (season finale pt 2), 11/23 24.2 million
19t. NBC Sunday Night Football (Packers-Patriots), 12/19 24.2 million
Source: NFL & The Nielsen Company, 9/6/10 – 1/2/11*
Following are the 15 most-watched basic cable shows of 2010:
Program, Date Viewers
1. ESPN Monday Night Football (Saints-Falcons), 12/27 19.1 million
2. ESPN Monday Night Football (Giants-Cowboys), 10/25 18.0 million
3. ESPN Monday Night Football (Packers-Bears), 9/27 17.5 million
4. ESPN Monday Night Football (Vikings-Jets), 10/11 17.3 million
5. ESPN Monday Night Football (Bears-Vikings), 12/20 17.1 million
6. ESPN Monday Night Football (Jets-Patriots), 12/6 16.5 million
7. ESPN Monday Night Football (Saints-49ers), 9/20 15.1 million
8. ESPN Monday Night Football (Eagles-Redskins), 11/15 15.0 million
9. ESPN Monday Night Football (Steelers-Bengals), 11/8 15.0 million
10. ESPN Monday Night Football (Ravens-Jets), 9/13 15.0 million
11. ESPN Monday Night Football (Patriots-Dolphins), 10/4 14.0 million
12. ESPN 2010 AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, 1/31 12.3 million
13. ESPN Monday Night Football (Ravens-Texans), 12/13 11.9 million
14. ESPN Monday Night Football (Texans-Colts), 11/1 11.9 million
15. ESPN Monday Night Football (Chargers-Chiefs), 9/13 11.9 million