Two down-to-the-wire finishes, a Taylor Swift garnish and a shift in ratings service Nielsen’s methodology helped produce a record audience for the NFL league championship games on Sunday, paving the way for the year’s most-watched TV event, the Super Bowl.Sunday’s AFC Championship between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens was the most-watched in history, according to CBS.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Baltimore Ravens averaged 55.5 million viewers, per Nielsen data, a 17% increase over the early game last year, surpassing the previous record of 54.9 million in 2011.
Last week’s Chiefs-Bills game attracted the largest audience ever for a divisional playoff game with an estimated 50.4 million viewers, up 10% over last year, topping the previous record set by the Cowboys-Packers game in 2017.
The primetime game traditionally reels in bigger numbers, and this year was no exception, with 56.7 million viewers for the San Francisco 49ers win over the Detroit Lions, a more modest 6% increase from 2023. Per Fox, that also marked the best results for an NFC Championship game since 2012.
Such historic comparisons come with an asterisk, or at least represent a bit of an apples and oranges scenario, since the TV ratings firm Nielsen changed its methodology in 2020 to include out-of-home viewing, incorporating estimates for those people watching games in restaurants, bars and other people’s households. Streaming has also skewed the way that people consume even live content.
Still, the NFL towers over other regular sports, and this year’s playoffs – with the boost of Taylor Swift’s attendance, and the Chiefs marching toward another Super Bowl appearance – have been no exception.
Swift’s relationship with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has lit up the media, and brought extra attention to the NFL that the league scarcely needs. The real benefit, though, has been boosting interest among certain demographic segments – especially young women and teenage girls – that might not otherwise tune in, which has contributed to audience bumps for Chiefs games during the season.
CBS will broadcast Super Bowl LVIII, pitting the Chiefs against the 49ers, on February 11. The network will launch its strike-delayed primetime lineup the next week to capitalize on that massive promotional platform.
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