The Patriots have had crazy good TV ratings lately. Here’s some context.

The massive numbers have Chad Finn wondering how Patriots ratings evolved through the years.

Tom Brady Vikings
Tom Brady during the Patriots' 24-10 win over the Vikings on Sunday, December 2, 2018. –Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Since the Patriots of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick began exerting their near two decades of dynastic dominance in 2001, the local television ratings for the franchise have consistently correlated with a massive audience.

Yes, even last year. The NFL’s television tumult nationally had no discernible effect on Patriots viewership around here.

Most Sunday afternoons (and more than a few Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights) during this prolonged Patriots heyday, the market share is at least in the upper 50s, meaning that 50-something percent of the televisions in use in Boston at the time are tuned in to the game.

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I suppose I should marvel at the size and commitment of that audience. Instead I often find myself wondering what else Boston TV viewers could possibly have been watching when the Pats are on.

Lately, though, the numbers have been particularly impressive. The Patriots’ 24-10 win over the Vikings Sunday, which aired in the desirable 4:25 p.m. window on Boston 25, delivered the highest local rating of any of their 12 games this season, earning a 39.8 household rating and a 62 market share.

It was the highest-rated regular-season game for the Patriots since a Week 12 matchup with the Jets in 2016. Perhaps more impressively, it was the second-highest rated television program this year in the market since the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII February 4. The Super Bowl, which is of course always the television event of the season no matter who is playing, earned a 55.9 rating and 81 share in Boston.

The only program with a higher rating than the Patriots-Vikings game was Game 5 of the World Series, when the Red Sox clinched their fourth championship since 2004. That game on Boston 25 got a 43.2 rating – and its share, 61, was actually lower than Sunday’s Patriots game.

Top 10 highest-rated TV programs in Boston since the Super Bowl Rating is the percentage of television-equipped households tuned in to the game. Share is the percentage of televisions in use at the time that are tuned in.
Ranking Program Network Date Rating Share
----------- Super Bowl LII CBS 2/4/18 55.9 81
1 World Series Game 5 Fox 10/28/18 43.2 61
2 Vikings @ Patriots Fox 12/2/18 39.8 62
3 Packers @ Patriots NBC 11/4/18 37.9 59
4 Patriots @ Bills ESPN, ABC 10/29/18 37.3 56
5 Patriots @ Jets CBS 11/25/18 37.2 66
6 Patriots @ Bears CBS 10/21/18 35.9 67
7 World Series Gm. 5 postgame Fox 10/28/18 35.6 66
8 World Series Game 1 Fox 10/23/18 35.1 55
9 Texans @ Patriots CBS 9/9/18 34.8 69
10 Colts @ Patriots Fox, NFLN 10/4/18 34.5 54
SOURCE: Nielsen Media Research

The excellent numbers for Patriots-Vikings were not a surprise given that it was a relatively compelling matchup in the late afternoon window. But I doubt anyone expected the Patriots’ matchup with the three-win Jets on CBS the week before to become the franchise’s highest-rated 1 p.m. game in three years — yet that’s exactly what happened.

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That game, a 27-13 Patriots win, delivered a 37.2 household rating and a 66 share in Boston. To that point, it was the third-highest rated Patriots game this season, behind a pair of prime-time matchups. (Week 9 vs. Packers, 37.9 rating on NBC’s Sunday Night Football; Week 8, Bills, 37.3 rating on ESPN’s Monday Night Football).

It should be noted that the Patriots’ instant-classic 43-40 win over the Chiefs in Week 6 on Sunday Night Football got “just’’ a 34.3 rating in Boston and a 51 viewership share — but the numbers were down for a good reason. The Red Sox and Astros were playing Game 4 of their American League Championship Series on Fox at the same time. The baseball game received a 20.6 rating and a 30 share, meaning that 81 percent of TVs in Boston were tuned into one of the two games. Again: What in the heck was anyone else watching?

See Your Boston Teams Up Close

The massive numbers got me wondering how Patriots ratings evolved through the years. The documentation of the Nielsen numbers before this era is pretty spotty, but there are a few interesting notes of context to be found.

■ It would take an extraordinary circumstance for anything to ever match the highest-rated local Patriots broadcast on record, because that itself was extraordinary and probably unrepeatable. The 2007 finale between the Patriots and Giants — a thrilling 38-35 New England win to cap a 16-0 regular season — earned a 50.1 rating and 75 share in Boston, in part because it was carried on Ch. 4, Ch. 7 and the NFL Network.

■ It’s fascinating to see how Patriots ratings peaked and valleyed during the Pete Carroll era (1997-99) that followed the Bill Parcells years (1993-96) and preceded the ascent after Belichick’s first season (2000). The Patriots’ 27-24 win over the Jets on Sunday Night Football in Week 3 in 1997 — the first showdown with Parcells since he jilted the franchise for the Jets — got a 41.7 rating and a 59 share on TNT and Ch. 56 locally. The Patriots slowly slid to mediocrity under Carroll, and during his final season in ’99, when they went 8-8, the highest-rated Patriots game that year was a relatively meager 25.2/45 for a Week 8 win over the Cardinals.

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■ Of course, the truly old days are almost unfathomable now. Remember the term blackout? The NFL suspended the concept in March 2015, but for decades, if a game wasn’t sold out, it would be blacked out locally, meaning it would not be shown in the local market on live television within a 90-mile radius of the stadium. That was ostensibly to encourage fans to buy tickets and go to the game. Often, local businesses – usually banks – would buy up the remaining tickets so that the game would air live. The Patriots often were either blacked out or scrambled to avoid it in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

The last Patriots blackout locally occurred on Dec. 26, 1993, against the Colts. Less than a month later, Robert Kraft purchased the franchise for $172 million. Safe to say it has worked out quite well for all involved, including those watching from home.

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