All season people have been lamenting the poor ratings generated by the National Football League live broadcasts. The excuses for this downturn have been legion. From Brady’s DeflateGate to growing frustration with Roger Goodell and other league officials to rules changes to poor showings on the field. But the Thanksgiving games bucked that trend, igniting the argument that, if the league put a good product on the field, people will watch. There’s no doubt the games on Thanksgiving were good. Both rivalry games, and both games of consequence involving division leaders or potential division leaders.
The early game pitted traditional Thanksgiving player, Detroit, against division rival Minnesota, which the Lions won in a squeaker, 16-13. Then came the game of the week: Dallas v. Washington. Not only a division game but one that pitted two of the hottest teams in football against each other. Dallas, with its Cinderella rookie QB and RB against Washington’s hot big play QB. The Cowboys won the game 31-26, but even the Skins fans had little to complain about. It was good football all the way around.
And lots of people watched the good football, more than 35 million viewers at last count, which landed the game at the top of the heap: Fox’s most-watched regular season game ever. CBS did very well too, with the Lions-Vikings game bringing them 26 million viewers, tops for this season.
Some would argue Thanksgiving is always a big football day, but these numbers are huge compared to last year’s marks … and this is good news in what’s been a pretty “bad news” season. The NFL has dealt with DeflateGate, protesting players kneeling during the National Anthem, and long-time fans burning jerseys in protest. Meanwhile, some rule changes have stalled games, tied up defenses, and frustrated both players and fans.
The following Sunday night game between Kansas City and Denver was down a bit from last season, but the matchup wasn’t nearly as marquee as it was then either, when the powerhouse Patriots came to town to battle the Super Bowl caliber Denver D. One of the continual criticisms of the current NFL lineup is over-saturation. The idea is that the Thursday night games are Too Much Football. Fans aren’t tuning in because the games aren’t that exciting and there’s too many of them. After all day college ball on Saturday, then all day NFL on Sunday and the night game on Monday, adding Thursday is more than people really want.
At present, the league swears it’s committed to Thursday Night Football … though fans may not share that commitment.