The NFL's Kickoff Game in Kansas City Could Set Ratings Records
Mark Van Sickle
Assuming everything goes according to plan, on Thursday, September 10, the Kansas City Chiefs will help kick off the 2020 NFL season at home against the Houston Texans. This has been a unique offseason, to say the least, and football fans around the nation can’t wait for football to return. With many factors heading into the season, there is good reason to believe this could be the highest-rated regular season game in the history of the league.
The NFL announced there would be no preseason games in 2020. This will heighten fans' interest in getting their first glimpse at football since the Chiefs came back from a 20-10 4th quarter deficit to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV. Kansas City will once again be in the spotlight during primetime on NBC in the first game of the NFL season. The announcers will be all over Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his new contract. When the defense takes the field, they’re going to love talking about Chiefs’ defensive tackle Chris Jones and his extension. Fans of other teams may start getting tired of the Chiefs soon, but the opening game will be a must-watch from coast to coast.
This will also be the third time the Chiefs and Texans have played each other in the last year. While this wouldn’t typically make for a ratings boost, Mahomes and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson are two of the game’s youngest and brightest stars. These two teams split the series last year with the Texans winning the first matchup. For a Week 6, Sunday noon kickoff, the Chiefs and Texans scored very well for that time slot with a 7.7 rating and 13 million viewers. When these two teams took the field in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was another early Sunday game and they scored the highest ratings for that weekend with a 20.3 rating (35.4 million viewers). The Chiefs fell behind early 24-0 but ended up taking the lead before halftime and never looked back in a 51-31 rout. This win gave them momentum and eventually led to their Super Bowl win.
It would be unrealistic to expect the season kickoff to reach Super Bowl viewership numbers. Year-in and year-out, the Super Bowl has the highest ratings of any television show for that year and owns four of the top five highest ratings of any show ever. Last season, the Super Bowl was the 11th most-watched show in television history. 102.1 million people tuned in for the game, giving Super Bowl LIV a whopping 41.6 rating. However, could the kickoff for the 2020 season see a higher-rated product than the Chiefs and Texans' last playoff matchup?
The 2019 kickoff game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers held a 12.8 rating with 22.03 million viewers. The highest-rated regular season game in 2019 was during Week 12 between the Patriots and Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, and it received a 19.5 rating and reached 29.47 million viewers. With all of the outside factors heading into this NFL season, I think the Chiefs and Texans can top last season’s highest-rated game. But can they reach the highest-rated regular season game of all time?
On December 2, 1985, the undefeated Chicago Bears took on the Miami Dolphins, led by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, in a Monday Night Football battle for the ages. The Dolphins ended up winning the game and it was the Bears' only loss on the season. This matchup got the highest rating of any regular season NFL game to this point with a 29.6 rating. This is the bar the Chiefs and Texans will need to climb over if they want to get their names in the record books.
The Chiefs did play a part in the most-viewed regular season game of all time when 35.7 million viewers watched Kansas City take on the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day in 1995. There’s another record that the Chiefs and Texans will be looking to crush when they kick off the NFL season in September.
When taking into consideration that Americans have been starved for real sporting events the past several months along with uncertainty that there may not be college football or a full NFL season due to COVID-19, there is a good chance the Chiefs/Texans ratings and viewership numbers get close to passing all-time regular season records that have stood for decades.