NFL conference championship game ratings were not as immune as Goodell hoped

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It’s probably not a big surprise that Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles didn’t have the drawing power of Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers.

There were some great storylines for the four teams who battled in Sunday’s conference championship games, but they weren’t compelling enough to help the league post higher ratings compared with last year’s conference title matchups.

Despite the fact the game was close throughout, the Jacksonville-New England AFC championship game on CBS drew a 27.3 rating, which was lower — albeit slightly — than last year’s 27.6 rating for a lopsided Pittsburgh-New England game.

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The Minnesota-Philadelphia NFC title game on Fox, which the Eagles won 38-7, tallied a 24.7 rating. That was down from the 27.4 rating the Green Bay-Atlanta contest — also a blowout — earned in last year’s NFC title game.

A rating point represents the percentage of households that were watching a specific program. The ratings are based on data compiled by Nielsen Media Research.

When comparing the ratings based on time slots — the NFL alternates which conference has the earlier of the two games — the Jacksonville-New England game was the lowest-rated early game since the 2013 game between San Francisco and Atlanta.

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The late game between Minnesota and Philadelphia was the lowest-rated since 2015 and only the third conference title game in the late broadcast window to earn a rating below 25 since 2009.

While the ratings for regular-season and the first two weekends of playoff games are often dependent on the popularity of specific teams and players, the conference championship games and Super Bowl are considered immune from big swings based on the theory that the games are so important that all fans will watch.

Yet both of this year’s championship games were the lowest rated for their respective conferences since 2015 — which, coincidentally, was the last year before players began kneeling during the national anthem.

After a 9 percent decline in regular-season ratings compared with last year — and last year’s ratings were down double digits from 2015 — the league has seen continued declines in the postseason.

Every round of games this season — the wild-card round, the divisional round and conference championships — were lower than last season, with the wild-card games of Jan. 7 down 15 percent, the largest decline of any of this year’s playoff games compared with last season.

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While the ratings aren’t trending in the right direction for the NFL, the league still draws viewers at higher numbers than just about anything else on television. In fact, the AFC championship game delivered the highest ratings of any program since last year’s Super Bowl.

And speaking of the Super Bowl, early predictions have New England as the overwhelming favorite to beat Philadelphia. But the fact the game involves two teams from the heavily populated Northeast could help prevent a big ratings drop over last year.

The fact the game does not feature the little-known Jaguars will almost certainly help mitigate any ratings drop as well.

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Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. A native of Milwaukee, he currently resides in Phoenix.
Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. He has more than 20 years of experience in print and broadcast journalism. A native of Milwaukee, he has resided in Phoenix since 2012.
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