NFL’s Christmas Takeover Puts a Bow on the Out-of-Home Ratings Jackpot

By | March 30, 2024

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As the NFL wrapped up its annual owners meetings in Orlando earlier this week, Roger Goodell’s tailor began loosening the waistline of the commissioner’s Grinch costume. On Tuesday, the man in charge of the sports monolith announced that the league will play a doubleheader on Christmas Day, spoiling the party for the lucky residents of Hoopsville® for the fifth year in a row.

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Goodell’s proclamation violated the NFL’s long-standing scheduling policy, which had established Wednesday as a no-fly zone for football. The last time the league geared up for a midweek game was during the plague year of 2020, when a COVID outbreak in the clubhouse forced the Ravens and Steelers to drop their primetime Thanksgiving game on NBC to the dead center of to move the match. the next week. Prior to this unorthodox move, the last time the NFL settled on Hump Day was in 2012, when the Cowboys and Giants opted to accommodate President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention by meeting the day before the event to come.

That marked the first NFL game on a Wednesday since 1948. Despite the fact that the NFL had expanded its tendrils to virtually every other day of the week, the NFL’s anti-Wednesday stance seemed about as immutable as the ballast that prevents the penalty flags from flying. the referees start floating. fooling around on the wind.

While the NBA expected to have the upper hand this Christmas, this year it is 77e episode of the league’s Christmas extravaganza – the NFL wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to assert itself during the ho-ho holiday. Last year’s three-fer achieved playoff-level TV ratings, while the early Chiefs-Raiders averaged 29.5 million viewers on CBS (good for 14th on the list of top 100 U.S. broadcasts), while the high-flying Giants-Eagles showdown scared another 29 million Fox viewers. To round out the not-so-quiet evening, the Ravens-Niners game averaged 27.6 million viewers; According to Nielsen, deliveries for the three broadcasts increased by 30% compared to the Christmas list a year ago.

Despite this football onslaught, the NBA averaged 2.85 million viewers with a five-game series, marking the league’s least-watched Christmas lineup ever.

Now there isn’t a network executive on the planet who wouldn’t trade a day of drinking eggnog and pulling tinsel out of dog’s butts for a shot at those kinds of numbers, even if it means players from four NFL teams will find themselves having to hold out for three matches in a span of eleven days. So far, the NFL Players Association hasn’t paid attention to the short-term situation at the end of the season, although, to paraphrase Rick James, ratings are great medicine.

As fun as it is to attribute malice to the actions of an all-powerful entity, Goodell’s decision to plunder this rare midweek Christmas – he even took the roast beast with him! – had little to do with a plan to dim the lights. on the time-honored tradition of the NBA. While “stealing thunder” is the NFL’s default, the holiday excess is all about making the most of the new way of measuring TV audience.

Ever since Nielsen started integrating out-of-home data into its national TV measurements, the NFL’s holiday ratings have been crazier than that weird, Trotsky-looking kid your niece sneaked into Thanksgiving dinner. (On the plus side: At least you’re not the one footing the bill at Oberlin for four years.) Because American vacations are structured in the old style of over-the-river-and-through-the-woods, everyone ends up at grandma, and once the banquet is attended, all eyes fall on the RCA in the family room. The set may be so old that it has a VCR built into it, but that doesn’t matter: the bonus eyeballs now being tallied by Nielsen have resulted in some truly eye-popping holiday deliveries.

Last year’s Thanksgiving Day telecast on CBS (Commanders-Cowboys) drew 41.8 million viewers, with out-of-home deliveries accounting for 41% (or 17.3 million) of those fans. In 2022, Fox set a record with 42.1 million viewers, as 39% of the Giants-Cowboys audience attended the action at someone else’s home. On Turkey Day, the family gathers around a bird carcass and then heads to the parlor to team up with the NFL, and now that same dynamic is playing out at Christmas.

Since large gatherings arguably lead to tens of millions of people staring at the TV, it would be foolhardy for the NFL to pass up the opportunity to tap into that reservoir of souls, especially now that the networks are credited with all those bonus impressions. And rights holders certainly won’t complain about working on holiday, not when the escalators of TV contracts kick in every year. On Thanksgiving 2023, CBS, Fox, and NBC combined for just under a quarter of a billion dollars in in-game advertising revenue ($246.3 million), which takes an awful lot of cake. No one in their right mind turns down that kind of loot, and Christmas money is starting to rise thanks to November’s windfall: last year’s December 25 tripleheader generated nearly $150 million in ad spend.

And hi boy, the holiday deliveries are only getting bigger. If Sportico In January, Nielsen broke out and is about to expand its out-of-home measurement to 100% of U.S. TV markets. While the impact won’t be felt until Super Bowl LIX airs on Fox in February, every sport on the air is expected to see an increase in ratings starting in 2025. That means the NFL now has even less incentive to pull out of the Christmas season. fireplace, regardless of what day of the week the holiday takes place in a given year.

For the NFL, showing off Adam Silver’s organization is just the icing on a cake that already weighs more than an offensive tackle. Rather than interpreting the league’s switcheroo on Wednesday as an act of malice, it might be better to view the NFL as an uncaring God clipping His fingernails while space junk kills all the dinosaurs. Like the creator who couldn’t be bothered to witness as his giant lizard children are turned into motor oil, the NFL doesn’t answer prayers. Or emails, for that matter.

As Michael Corleone assures his irascible brother other great Christmas movie: “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s purely business.” Now that the NFL has done a run through Moe Greene’s Foster Grants, December 25 is now in the bag. As for the NBA, it has no plans to abandon the court and, for example, move the quintuple header to Boxing Day, but we can’t ignore the fact that the league’s holiday tradition has been diminished.

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