UPDATED: Super Bowl LI was the first Super Bowl in history to have gone to overtime play, but that didn’t translate to a record. Sunday’s Big Game on Fox drew an average audience of 111.3 million people on its broadcast network, with an average streaming audience of 1.7 million and another 650,000 on Fox Deportes; its household rating was a 45.3.
Last year’s Big Game, a joyless slog between the Carolina Panthers and eventual winners the Denver Broncos on CBS, pulled in 111.9 million viewers on the network — also shy of the previous year’s monster record of 114.4 million viewers on NBC — and an average streaming audience of 1.4 million.
It’s helpful to remember that at this point, the exact number of viewers for a given Super Bowl telecast is almost immaterial: The Super Bowl is the biggest event on television every year, and it is the only way for advertisers to simultaneously reach more than 100 million Americans (thus the exorbitant $5 million price tag just for 30 seconds of air time). Fox was also able to snag an extra $20 million for the spots that ran in the overtime period.
Sunday’s game began as a blowout, with the Atlanta Falcons up to an early 21-0 lead. And then the New England Patriots began creeping back, slowly — until the fourth quarter rolled around, when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scored two touchdowns (with two two-point conversions) in quick succession, tying the game and sending it into overtime. Under the NFL’s absurd sudden-death overtime rules, the Pats scored first, ending the game just under four hours after kickoff.
For the fourth year in a row, the halftime show was a bigger eyeball vortex than the game itself: 117.5 million people watched Lady Gaga’s performance. That’s the second-biggest audience for a halftime show, behind Katy Perry’s in 2015.
But while the Super Bowl may not have drawn a record audience this go-round, Fox appears to be the beneficiary of some strange sports juju. Not only did the network get itself a dynamite seven-game World Series that the Chicago Cubs won, Super Bowl LI went into overtime for the first time ever, though it was quickly won on the first possession by the Patriots.
The Super Bowl has always drawn a healthy audience, increasing almost geometrically through the decades from its initial two-network telecast in 1967, but it wasn’t until 2010 that it cracked the 100 million viewer mark. Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 pulled in 98.7 million pairs of eyeballs for a Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Arizona Cardinals — 2010’s Super Bowl XLIV spiked to 106.5 million for the New Orleans Saints’ dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts. Since then it’s been fairly steady growth, with some minor fluctuations in the last few years.
In Nielsen’s metered market overnight ratings, the game drew a 48.8 household rating and a 72 share, down slightly from 2016’s 49.0 household rating. Lady Gaga’s halftime show brought in a 50.0 overnight household rating.
The top five markets for the game were:
- Pittsburgh – 57.9
- Buffalo – 57.2
- Atlanta – 57.0
- Norfolk – 55.9
- Richmond – 55.7
Ratings for Fox’s premiere of “24: Legacy” will be in later Monday afternoon.