When It Comes to Sports TV, There’s NFL and Then There’s Everything Else

football
Illustration: Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

There’s good reason the NFL’s media partners pay top dollar to renew their rights packages. 

Analysis conducted by VIP+ that looked at every game televised across major sports in 2022 (including “Thursday Night Football” games airing on Prime Video) found the NFL accounted for a tremendous 75% of all games or events that had an audience of 10 million or more. 

The second highest on the list was also football. College football accounted for 7% of big audiences, followed by the MLB and NBA, both of which drew more than 10 million only for championship games. No regular season or postseason game aside from those saw an audience north of 10 million. 

In numerical terms, this saw the NFL with 115 games or events (the NFL Draft drew more viewers than any MLB or NBA regular-season game and is included in the counts) with a large audience watching.  

The NFL itself saw changes in its broadcasting schedule in 2022: “Thursday Night Football” moved from being simulcast on Fox, NFL Network and Prime Video most weeks to being a Prime Video exclusive. This saw the total weekly viewers of NFL games dip below 2021 levels most weeks of the season. 

That shouldn’t come as a surprise or be a headline. VIP+’s analysis shows Prime Video actually beat out NFL Network "Thursday Night Football" exclusives head-to-head, and it stands to reason that a game freely available on broadcast TV will beat out one on a subscription streaming service. 

Excluding Thursday games from both years — i.e., leveling the playing field to show Sunday, Monday and special games consistent with both years — shows that 2022 had a greater weekly audience than 2021. 

VIP+ has previously covered the positive relationship between the NFL and TV subscriptions — as well as how this may be jeopardized now that Sunday Ticket will be available to purchase on YouTube next season. (Its TV popularity also explains why it is the most popular sport on which to bet). 

When looking at the number of games through the lens of networks airing them, Fox takes pole position, buoyed by having the World Series and the FIFA World Cup in 2022, followed by CBS. If one summed up sports across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 — often multicast on two or more Disney-owned networks — they collectively would be in third place, with a total of 32 events seeing 10 million viewers or more. 

For a full list of every event to see such audiences, refer to the interactive table above. 

In a world where many sports have recently conducted rights renewals for triple-digit increases, and the likes of the NBA and NASCAR are close to the end of their current rights deals, questions may be asked about the value for some of these. Several domestic sports aren’t able to crack north of 5 million or even 2.5 million viewers for their marquee finals, yet have either recently received, or will be asking for, huge increases to their existing prices. 

Yet these sports are not the NFL, or even college football, in terms of appeal. VIP+ has consistently warned about a rights reckoning that will occur at some point. When that does, expect it to be the haves and have-nots in terms of audience delivery and for football to remain supreme.