In the world of TV ratings, the NFL remains in a league of its own

The NFL's viewership is so far ahead of any other sport, any comparison is pointless.

Tom Brady's return to Gillette Stadium drew 26.7 million viewers, the most-watched broadcast of the year as the NFL continues to lap the competition. JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

Whenever readers ask how a game from another sport — even much-anticipated events such as a Red Sox postseason game or a Celtics or Bruins season opener, for recent examples — fared against a Patriots broadcast in the Nielsen ratings, I try to offer one particular reminder:

NFL games are so far ahead of other sports in viewership that there is really no comparison to be made at all. NFL games should be compared not with sports but with all other television programs across all networks. And even then, guess what? The NFL wins in a blowout.

The latest, but hardly the only, evidence of this came this past week when the NFL updated its viewership data through the season’s first six weeks. Since the season began with the Cowboys-Buccaneers kickoff game on Sept. 9, NFL game broadcasts have accounted for the 33 most-watched programs on television.


Not just NFL games. Not just sporting events. Programs. NFL games are the most-watched content on television.

Through six weeks, national NFL broadcasts are averaging 16.6 million viewers, up 11 percent over the same stretch from last season. I actually thought that number would be higher given how comparatively unappealing live sports were on television when fans weren’t permitted in stadiums during that stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it still counts as significant growth. And if someone still insists on comparing it with playoff baseball, here is one data point that should provide context: ESPN and ESPN2′s broadcast of the Red Sox-Yankees Wild Card Game drew the largest audience for any baseball game on the network since 1998. How many viewers did it draw? An average of 7.7 million — an outstanding number, and yet less than half of what the NFL is averaging for its national regular-season broadcasts.

Of note locally: Two of the four most-watched NFL games this season involved the Patriots: Their 19-17 loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 4 on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which is first with 26.7 million viewers on average; and last Sunday’s 35-29 overtime loss to the Cowboys on CBS, which is fourth (23.2 million).


Others in the top five: Cowboys-Buccaneers, NBC, Week 1 (second, 24.8 million); Cowboys-Chargers, CBS, Week 2 (third, 24.3 — Dallas remains the league’s biggest draw); and Buccaneers-Rams, Week 3, Fox (fifth, 22.6).

New voices

While the Patriots clearly still can be a viewership magnet when they have a compelling matchup, the days of Jim Nantz (who has called more than 100 Patriots games in his career) and Tony Romo being in Foxborough seemingly every other week are gone, at least for now.

The Patriots-Jets game, which isn’t exactly the marquee matchup this Sunday, will be called by CBS’s No. 5 team of play-by-play voice Andrew Catalon and analyst James Lofton.

They are not unfamiliar — they called the Patriots’ win over the Texans three weeks ago — but audiences may not know their voices right away, either.

Lofton, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, said he appreciates the chance to call Patriots games, in part because it gives him a chance to pick Bill Belichick’s brain on NFL history.

“I love getting to spend time around him for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that he can give you an oral history of the sport,” said Lofton, who will be part of a Patriots broadcast for the third time since he’s been at CBS. “He’s able to delve into history, he’s able to delve into the politics of the game, to the players he’s studied and seen and coached, and the changes that have taken place, and he’s able to do it seamlessly. He’s a great resource for knowledge.


“When you have the production meeting with him, you almost go and go. ‘I know I’ve got a lot of questions, but what are the right questions to try and ask him to maximize his time?’ Because the ideal thing would be just to be around and for the whole week and to follow him around. How great would that be?”

Technical difficulties

There have been some frustrating moments in recent weeks for Boston fans who have discovered that their teams’ game broadcasts are scattered across different providers in the age of streaming. First, Game 3 of the Red Sox’ American League Division Series with the Rays aired exclusively on MLB Network, which isn’t available on certain cable and streaming providers in Boston. Then, Friday night, the Bruins’ game with the Sabres aired exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu, with no availability on ESPN’s main networks, let alone NESN. This is part of the NHL’s new rights deal with ESPN, which allows for 75 regular-season games to air on ESPN+, the network’s subscription-based streaming service, and Hulu. Three more Bruins games will be carried solely by ESPN+ and Hulu this season: Capitals at Bruins, Jan. 20; Bruins at Blues, April 19; and Rangers at Bruins, April 23 … The Celtics’ season opener against the Knicks got a 4.0 local rating in Boston and 3.5 in New York. Not a bad number around here considering that the Red Sox and Bruins were also playing. The broadcast was ESPN’s most-watched Wednesday season-opening game in 18 years, according to Nielsen … NESN will premiere an hourlong program Monday titled “David Ortiz: Unstoppable,” in which the former Red Sox slugger will sit down with Tom Caron to rewatch and discuss moments from his 2013 World Series performance, when he batted a robust .688. The show airs at 9 p.m.


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