NFL games don't reach primetime goals

HOLLYWOOD — Despite moving two of its first-round playoff games into primetime, the NFL’s wild-card weekend produced only minimal year-to-year ratings gains.

According to Nielsen overnights, the weekend’s four pro football playoff contests averaged a 16.7 rating — up from last year’s 16.6, but down from the 17.8 of two years ago. Still, any year-to-year improvement is seen as a positive at a time when a multitude of viewing options have driven down the ratings of most annual events.

Weekend’s highest-rated (and most competitive) game was the early Sunday NFC battle on Fox between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers (18.3 rating/38 share). It scored a 51.2/77 in Milwaukee and a 29.8/63 in the Bay Area.

Other ratings were a 17.9/32 for Sunday’s Baltimore Ravens-Miami Dolphins game on CBS; a 15.6/25 for Saturday’s primetime contest on ABC between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders; and a 14.9/29 for the late-afternoon Saturday game on ABC between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles.

Postseason pall

Although the NFL remains the most popular sports attraction for viewers — and the Super Bowl has remained at the same ratings levels for years — the post-season games leading up to it haven’t fared as well recently.

Last year, the 10 pre-Super Bowl playoff games averaged 25.5 million viewers, a rather sharp decline from 2000 (28.2 million) and 1999 (31.2m).

In an attempt to boost ratings this season, the NFL moved back its early-round Saturday playoff games to hours when more people are watching TV — from 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET kickoffs to 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

National NFL ratings for the regular season show the league’s four television networks finishing down by a collective 3% in total viewers (13.7 million vs. 14.1 million).

Eye sees uptick

CBS’ average turnout was again the smallest for the broadcasters (14.30 million), but this repped its first year-to-year uptick (from 14.06m in 2000) since reacquiring the NFL four years ago. The Eye was also the only web to improve vs. last season.

ABC’s “Monday Night Football” remained the most-watched package (16.99m for its 15 Monday games), down 8%, and ranks No. 9 this season among all primetime programs. The “NFL on Fox” package averaged 15.40 million viewers, down 1% year-to-year, while “NFL on ESPN” averaged 7.67 million, a 3% falloff.

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