NFL Watched By 205 Million Unique TV Viewers in 2013

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The National Football League still reigns, in dominant fashion, as the No. 1 most-watched sport in the United States. A reported 205 million unique television viewers tuned in to some part of the 2013 NFL regular season, representing 81 percent of all television homes and 70 percent of potential viewers in the country, according to The Nielsen Company.

There was an average of 17.6 million viewers per game telecast — the second most-watched season ever behind the 2010 season (17.9 million).

NFL games accounted for 34 of the 35 most-watched TV shows among all programming last fall (chart below).

Twenty-two NFL game telecasts this season were watched by at least 25 million viewers – nearly triple the total for the full 2012 season (eight).

For the second consecutive year, an NFL game was the week’s most-watched TV show in all 17 weeks of the season.

NFL games nearly tripled broadcast primetime viewership. NFL games on CBS, FOX and NBC averaged 20.3 million viewers – 190 percent higher than the average primetime viewership among the four major over-the-air networks (7.0 million average on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC). That NFL advantage is more than triple the 56 percent edge of a decade ago (chart below).

Other notes about the broadcasting partners of the NFL:


    • NBC was the most watched network covering NFL games averaging 21.75 million viewers, a slight increase from 2012 (up 1.7 percent) and it highest average audience since 2010 (21.85 million). Sunday Night Football has been prime time’s highest rated “programs” the past two years.


    • Fox averaged 21.12 million viewers (up 6.5 percent from last season) and reportedly its most watched season since their NFL coverage began in 1994.


    • CBS averaged 18.63 million viewers, an increase of 5.4 percent from last year, its highest average audience since 2010 and the network’s second most-watched season ever.


    • The late afternoon game on Thanksgiving (Oakland vs. Dallas) on CBS averaged 31.675 million viewers, the highest of any regular season game in NFL.


    • Other top rated games was the late afternoon game on Fox opening winner (primarily Green Bay at San Francisco) averaged 28.42 million viewers. The Thanksgiving early game on Fox (Green Bay at Detroit) averaged 28.34 million viewers.


    • The highest rated prime time was the final Sunday Night game of the season (Philadelphia at Dallas) on NBC which averaged 27.63 million viewers which ranked ninth overall. Nine of the ten highest rated NFL games aired in the afternoon on Fox and CBS.


    • The highest rated game on cable was the early game on opening weekend on ESPN (Philadelphia vs. Washington) which averaged 16.52 million viewers.


    • ESPN’s package of Monday Night NFL games averaged 13.68 million viewers — an increase of 6.6 percent from 2012 and its highest rating since 2010. “Monday Night Football” on ESPN is the most-watched cable series for eighth consecutive year.


    • The 14 lowest rated games were the 14 games that aired on the NFL Network. The most watched was Kansas City vs. Philadelphia which averaged 9.37 million viewers.


    • The NFL Network coverage consisting of Thursday night games averaged 6.74 million viewers, an increase of 4.7 percent from last year, it’s the networks fifth straight season of audience growth covering NFL games. When factoring audience from over-the-air stations in local markets, its average audience jumps from 6.74 million to a record 8.1 million. “Thursday Night Football” was the most-watched Thursday night cable program of the fall. (LINK: New Record Season for “Thursday Night Football” on NFL Network)


    • NFL Network’s average weekday primetime viewership jumped eight percent from a record 2012.


    • The median age for the NFL television viewer in 2013 was 48.4 years old, in 2012 it was 47.1.


    • NFL games accounted for 46 of the 50 most-watched telecasts (since Sept. 5) among adults aged 18-49 – with CBS, FOX, ESPN and NBC each represented on that list.


Over the past decade, average viewership of NFL games on broadcast television has increased 31 percent from 15.5 million in 2003 to 20.3 million in 2013.


NFL on Broadcast Broadcast Prime Time NFL Pct Advantage
2003 Avg. Viewers 15.5 million 9.9 million 56%
2004 Avg. Viewers 15.4 million 9.8 million 57%
2005 Avg. Viewers 15.6 million 9.7 million 61%
2006 Avg. Viewers 16.3 million 9.8 million 66%
2007 Avg. Viewers 16.6 million 8.7 million 91%
2008 Avg. Viewers 16.6 million 8.8 million 89%
2009 Avg. Viewers 18.4 million 8.5 million 116%
2010 Avg. Viewers 20.0 million 8.2 million 144%
2011 Avg. Viewers 19.8 million 8.1 million 144%
2012 Avg. Viewers 19.3 million 7.6 million 154%
2013 Avg. Viewers 20.3 million 7.0 million 190%
Source: NFL & The Nielsen Company. NFL regular season on Broadcast television (CBS, FOX & NBC…ABC prior to 2006). Broadcast primetime on BIG 4 networks (ABC, CBS, NBC & Fox) all programs, NFL regular season dates used

For the season, NFL games rank as 34 of the top 35 most-watched TV shows since Labor Day.

Following are the most-watched programs this fall:

Rank Program Viewers
1 CBS Thanksgiving Day Game (Oakland-Dallas), Nov. 28 31.675
2 Fox Sunday National (mostly Green Bay-San Francisco), Sep. 8 28.482
3 Fox Thanksgiving Day Game (Green Bay-Detroit), Nov. 28 28.343
4 CBS Sunday National (mostly Denver-Dallas), Oct. 6 28.323
5 CBS Sunday National (mostly Denver-Kansas City), Dec. 1 28.106
6 Fox Sunday National (Dallas-N.Y. Giants), Nov. 24 27.941
7 Fox Sunday National (Green Bay-Dallas), Dec. 15 27.768
8 Fox Sunday National (Seattle-San Francisco), Dec. 8 27.647
9 NBC Sunday Night Football (Philadelphia-Dallas), Dec. 29 27.363
10 Fox Sunday National (mostly Philadelphia-Denver), Sep. 29 26.970
11 NBC Sunday Night Football (Kansas City-Denver), Nov. 17 26.947
12 NBC Sunday Night Football (Denver-Indianapolis), Oct. 20 26.943
13 Fox Sunday National (mostly San Francisco-New Orleans), Nov. 17 26.940
14 Fox Sunday National (mostly New Orleans-New England), Oct. 13 26.736
15 NBC Sunday Night Football (Denver-New England), Nov. 24 26.483
16 CBS Sunday National (mostly Denver-N.Y. Giants), Sep. 15 26.422
17 Fox Sunday National (mostly Green Bay-Chicago), Dec. 29 26.351
18 CBS Sunday National (mostly Indianapolis-San Francisco), Sep. 22 25.579
19 Fox Sunday National (mostly Washington-Denver), Oct. 27 25.499
20 NBC Sunday Night Football (N.Y. Giants-Dallas), Sep. 8 25.398
21 CBS Sunday National (mostly Baltimore-Pittsburgh & Houston-Kansas City), Oct. 20 25.319
22 NBC Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Nov. 28 25.2
23 NBC Thursday Night Kickoff Game (Baltimore-Dallas), Sep. 5 25.133
24 CBS Sunday National (mostly New England-Baltimore), Dec. 22 24.199
25 CBS Sunday National (mostly Denver-San Diego), Nov. 10 24.069
26 CBS Sunday National (mostly Pittsburgh-New England), Nov. 3 23.987
27 NBC Sunday Night Football (Washington-Dallas), Oct. 13 22.074
28 Fox Sunday Single (mostly New Orleans-Carolina & N.Y. Giants-Detroit), Dec. 22 21.912
29 Fox Sunday Single (mostly Washington-Green Bay & New Orleans-Tampa Bay), Sep. 15 21.875
30 NBC Thanksgiving Night Game (Pittsburgh-Baltimore), Nov. 28 21.113
31 NBC Sunday Night Football (Dallas-New Orleans), Nov. 10 21.090
32 Fox Sunday Single (mostly Green Bay-Cincinnati, N.Y. Giants-Carolina & St. Louis-Dallas), Sep. 22 20.919
33 NBC Sunday Night Football (San Francisco-Seattle), Sep. 15 20.543
34 NBC Sunday Night Football (Chicago-Pittsburgh), Sep. 22 20.510
35 NBC Sunday Night Football (New England-Atlanta), Sep. 29 20.493

Source: NFL & The Nielsen Company.