The NFL's small-market teams typically are not favorites of the major networks. The New Orleans Saints are atypical and have become "network darlings" for television ratings over the recent years. Will this trend continue without their legendary quarterback, Drew Brees, in 2021?
THE NFL AND RATINGS
The Wall Street Journal attributed a 7% NFL ratings drop to the "2020 presidential election coverage siphoning away viewers and the pandemic's wreaking havoc on the league."
Nevertheless, networks must expect a turnaround will occur in 2021. In March, the NFL signed new media rights agreements with CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, and Amazon, collectively worth about $110 billion over 11 years, nearly doubling the value of its previous contracts," per a New York Times report. Conclusion - the NFL and networks will market and experience a rise in viewership.
The 2020 and 2021 NFL Drafts are proof that fans still have an interest in watching pro football programming. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 15.1 million people watched the 2020 NFL Draft. In April of 2021, 12.6 million tuned into the draft. Conversely, Sports Pro Media reports the 2021 draft digital viewership up 54 percent from the 2019 draft.
New Orleans viewers were third in the U.S. in watching three days of the 2021 NFL Draft. The New Orleans Saints website shared that the Crescent City brought in a "7.7 rating for the three-day draft trailing only the draft's host city, Cleveland (10.9), and Birmingham (8.0)."
These numbers demonstrate why Saints fans are an excellent bet for television networks in primetime.
NEW ORLEANS AND GREEN BAY
New Orleans and Green Bay are two franchises fans tune in for their games and networks reap huge ratings. 2021 appears this trend will continue for the Saints and Packers as the networks chose to showcase them in primetime events.
In 2020, the names of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Sean Payton, and Alvin Kamara advertised well for NBC and attracted millions of viewers. According to this season's scheduling, Fox Sports plans to gain a windfall of viewers watching their Week 1 'America's Game of the Week' between the Packers and Saints.
How will this fare without Drew Brees and possibly Aaron Rodgers not in the lineup on Sept. 12? Even the Vegas oddsmakers have refrained from posting the over/under for the game because of the Rodgers-Packers estrangement.
NFL SCHEDULING IN 2021
The NFL schedule makers partner with the networks in building schedules.
Fox and CBS will open the season with a showcase of games in the 3:25 PM CT timeslot on September 12. The featured events will have Cleveland at Kansas City on CBS and Green Bay visiting New Orleans on Fox.
The significance of these games lies in the star power, vengeance storylines, and potential television rating bonanza in the season openers.
Last season's opener for the Saints featured Tom Brady debuting as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback. New Orleans claimed a 34-23 victory over Brady and the television market.
The Fox 'America's Game of the Week' broadcast averaged 25.8 million viewers, and the New Orleans market had a 45.6 rating and a 63 share. The Saints-Bucs broadcast was the highest-rated Week 1 game since 2016 for the network.
Adding extra seasoning in the Saints' rating gumbo, as of Sept. 12, 2020, the game was the most streamed regular-season contest in NFL history.
Nielsen shared the NFL viewership of 2020 regular-season games dropped by 7% from 2019.
According to Pro Football Network, the NFL games averaged 15.4 million viewers for live or same-day broadcasts, but the average audience dropped to 14.8 million viewers for all televised games.
In Week 3 of 2020, Aaron Rodgers' unbeaten Packers team squeaked out a 37-30 victory over New Orleans. "The NBC game broadcast brought 14.43 million viewers and a 4.2 rating among adults 18-49 between the 8 – 11 PM ET time slot," per Deadline.
"Thursday Night Football is part of the primetime television schedule that also includes Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Football – these NFL games are generally broadcast across the entire United States by one major national network. Sunday Night Football was the most viewed TV show in the United States in the 2019/20 season, attracting an average audience of around 20 million viewers." Statista
SAINTS' FEATURED GAMES IN 2021
Here's the question for 2021. New Orleans has featured contests:
- Week 1: Green Bay - Game of the Week (FOX)
- Week 7: @ Seattle - MNF (ESPN)
- Week 8: Tampa Bay - Game of the Week candidate (FOX)
- Week 12: Buffalo - SNF on Thanksgiving (NBC)
- Week 13: Dallas - TNF (FOX/NFLN/AMAZON)
- Week 15: @ Tampa Bay - SNF (NBC)
- Week 16: Miami - MNF (ESPN)
- Week 18: @ Atlanta (potential switch to Game of the Week) (FOX)
Across ABC/ESPN, NBC, ESPN Deportes, NFL Network, and Amazon Prime, the New Orleans Saints will play up to eight significant games, leading to high ratings.
The strange part of this season's scheduling is that New Orleans has only two games with CBS - at Washington and Tennessee.
We can expect the networks will continue keeping the New Orleans Saints on football fans' programming as long as the team continues to win without Drew Brees. No Brees, no problem - there's still a Sean Payton offense on the field for 17 games.
Will they love it? Will it work?
We shall see.
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