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NFL ratings rebound after two seasons of declining viewership

Posted at 5:36 PM, Jan 03, 2019

After two years of declining ratings, bad press and criticism from the President of the United States , the NFL has something to celebrate in the new year.

The league's TV viewership in 2018 is up roughly 5% overall from the year prior. The 2018 season attracted around 15.8 million viewers, with ratings increases for each of its TV partners, NBC, Fox, ESPN and CBS.

The NFL accounted for 46 of the top 50 most-watched shows on TV this season. NBC's "Sunday Night Football" is on pace to be TV's No. 1 show in prime time for the eighth consecutive year, according to the network.

The NFL's declining viewership was a point of contention in both media and political circles for the past few seasons. President Trump and his supporters pointed to players kneeling in protest over police brutality and social injustice during the National Anthem as the cause of the downturn.

As for the league's ratings bump in 2018, it could be attributed to many different factors. Jay Rosenstein, an adjunct professor at NYU's Tisch Institute for Global Sport and a former VP of programming at CBS Sports, believes that quality games are behind the ratings increase this season.

"I said this at the beginning of the season that I liked the schedule, I liked the match-ups, I liked what was going on with the recovery of injuries from last year," Rosenstein, who predicted a 5% to 10% viewership boost at the start of last season, told CNN Business. "Great match ups and great games are obviously made for TV."

High scoring may have also had something to do with league's ratings revival this year. There were 1,371 touchdowns this season, which is the most for a single season in NFL history, according to the league. The games were also competitive, with 73 match-ups decided by three points or fewer. That's also an NFL record.

"The league is built on high scoring, but I've always maintained that it's the intensity of the games that matters most, even arguably more than the score," Rosenstein added.

Now the league heads for the playoffs with the potential to keep its ratings momentum going with popular teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots all in contention.