According to Bloomberg, the 2016 NFL season saw viewership drop by 8% versus the previous year. One of the few bright spots?
The Dallas Cowboys.
Through week 16, five of the six most-popular games featured “America’s Team” and its rookie stars, rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott, according to ESPN. In the second half of the season, the Cowboys averaged 23.7 million viewers -- more than last year’s World Series (23.4 million) and NBA Finals (20.2 million), according to data from Fox, which carried Dallas games the most. Late-season games showed double-digit gains.
“There’s not another brand in American sports that delivers that kind of impact,” said Michael Mulvihill, Fox Sports’ executive vice president of research. The Cowboys “have always been the most popular team. Now we have a resurgence, and that’s great.”
The Dallas Cowboys have always been a ratings juggernaut, and if you're a league struggling with TV ratings, wouldn't you try to put every game of your ratings magnet on national television?
In a nutshell, that's what the 2017 NFL schedule is all about.
The Cowboys have the maximum possible five primetime games scheduled this year, and an additional nine late afternoon games, which often deliver even higher ratings than Sunday Night Football and are a key driver of network ratings.
That leaves just two games scheduled for the lesser 1 pm ET regional slots, one of which (Week 17 against the Eagles) will likely be flexed out into a late afternoon slot anyway.
So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to find that the Cowboys dominate the ratings forecast for this season. Per AdAge, the Cowboys are playing in nine of the 12 games with the highest expected ratings for 2017:
|1||Packers @ Cowboys||Fox late national window, Oct. 8||30.1M viewers, 17.2 HH rating|
|2||Giants @ Cowboys||NBC "Sunday Night Football," Sept. 10||27.8M, 16.3 HH|
|3||Cowboys @ Giants||Fox late national window, Dec. 10||27.6M, 16.0 HH|
|4||Patriots @ Steelers||CBS late national window, Dec. 17||26.9M, 15.5 HH|
|5||Cowboys @ Falcons||Fox late national window, Nov. 12||26.7M, 15.2 HH|
|6||Cowboys @ Raiders||NBC "Sunday Night Football," Dec. 17||26.4M, 15.2 HH|
|7||Falcons @ Patriots||NBC "Sunday Night Football," Oct. 22||25.4M, 14.7 HH|
|8||Cowboys @ Broncos||Fox late national window, Sept. 17||25.3M, 14.6 HH|
|9||Seahawks @ Packers||Fox late national window, Sept. 10||25.1M, 14.6 HH|
|10||Eagles @ Cowboys||NBC "Sunday Night Football," Nov. 19||24.9M, 14.3 HH|
|11||Cowboys @ Redskins||Fox late national window, Oct. 29||24.7M, 14.2 HH|
|12||Chargers @ Cowboys||CBS Thanksgiving window, Nov. 23||32.7M, 14.1 HH|
The NFL is hitching its cart behind the Dallas Cowboys to help pull the NFL out of its ratings quagmire. In fact, they are going all in, judging by how they've given the Cowboys seemingly almost every available national window.