The NFL season got off to a slower start in the ratings with a lopsided Kickoff Game.
Thursday’s Bills-Rams NFL Kickoff Game averaged 19.94 million viewers on NBC, marking the smallest linear TV audience for the NFL season opener in four years (2018: Falcons-Eagles: 18.98M). Including additional streaming viewership not tracked by Nielsen, the game averaged 21.7 million — down 19% from Cowboys-Buccaneers last year (26.9M) but up slightly from Texans-Chiefs opposite the NBA and NHL playoffs two years ago (21.6M). Ratings were not immediately available.
Even with streaming included, Thursday’s audience was the third-lowest for the Kickoff Game since 2009 (Titans-Steelers: 20.9M) — ahead of only the aforementioned Texans-Chiefs and Falcons-Eagles games. On NBC alone, it was the second-smallest Kickoff Game audience since 2008 (Washington-New York: 13.5M).
The Bills’ easy win — the most lopsided Kickoff Game since 2013 — still delivered television’s largest audience since the night of the Super Bowl. The previous high was 17.66 million (18.5 million including additional streaming viewership) for North Carolina-Duke in the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.
Other than the one night of the Olympics that followed the Super Bowl, no non-football sporting event has had as large an audience since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.
Beyond the lopsided nature of the game, NBC also had to contend Thursday with breaking news coverage — though it should be noted that the three cable news networks combined to average fewer viewers in primetime (4.72M) than on the night of the Kickoff Game last year (5.25M).