The NFL remains an unparalleled ratings draw, with Sunday’s pair of conference championship games averaging a huge 53.7 million viewers — matching the largest average for the league’s playoff semifinals in more than 30 years.
Nielsen estimates that 55.9 million viewers watched the Seattle Seahawks hold off the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game in primetime on Fox, and the earlier AFC Championship between Denver and New England averaged 51.3 million on CBS. The former was the fifth largest crowd ever for a conference title game, while the latter was the third largest ever for an AFC conference clincher.
The games are the two most-watched telecasts since last year’s Super Bowl, easily topping the 40.4 million who watched last year’s Oscars on ABC.
The 53.7 million matches the audience for the conference championship games two years ago, when Baltimore-New England drew 48.7 million and San Francisco-New York Giants attracted 57.6 million. The last time the games leading up to the Super Bowl drew a larger audience was in 1982, which included 68.7 million for San Francisco-Dallas in January 1982 on CBS.
All five of the five most-watched conference championship games have been NFC games, with four of the five featuring the 49ers.
Fox will air the Super Bowl between the Seawhawks and Broncos from New Jersey on Feb. 2.