After a season marked by worrisome NFL ratings declines, viewers showed up in droves for the big game.
Super Bowl LI was seen by 113.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings provided by Fox Sports. That includes the Fox telecast and 1.7 million streaming viewers plus an additional 650,000 from a Spanish-language simulcast on Fox Deportes.
The tally is up slightly from last year, marking a turnaround after 2016’s dip in the ratings. If you only count Fox linear viewership, the ratings just about tie last year.
Super Bowl ratings climbed every year from 2005’s game (86 million viewers) to 2012 (111.3 million viewers) before dipping in 2013 (108.7 million). Then 2014 (112.2 million) and 2015 (114.4 million) continued the upward march. Last year, ratings fell back to 111.9 million.
There’s been a lot of recent debate whether football has peaked. Looking at Super Bowl numbers across the decades, this season’s slump possibly represents a temporary setback, an adjustment following a multi-year surge — like when the stock market has a correction. But there’s also a real chance that another, more permanent theory is correct — that football viewership peaked a couple years ago and because the same ratings drag that we’ve seen on non-sports programming (due to the proliferation of entertainment options and younger viewers watching less TV) is eroding viewership of the previously Teflon NFL.
UPDATE: Fox Sports has put out a release claiming Super Bowl LI is “the most-viewed program in U.S. television history” which some outlets will doubtless pick up on. This sounds rather impressive. But metric they’re using is among viewers who watched at least a few minutes of the program instead of the average number of viewers who actually watched the game, which is what’s normally always used for ratings. It’s a Nielsen data point that’s not typically ever used because watching a few minutes of something doesn’t mean you saw any ads or really paid any attention at all. We only tend to see this metric released in cases when networks are trying to make a ratings decline look like a victory. Given that the numbers were, in reality, very good and on par with recent years, it’s curious that Fox Sports would use this.
UPDATE 2: The 24: Legacy ratings are in and are making ABC’s Alias look good.