TV wasn’t always so dominated by the NFL, but it’s hard to remember that now. Credit: Richard Sheinwald/Bloomberg News.
Despite an ongoing spate of extramural ugliness and an injury epidemic that has sidelined some of the game’s top draws, the National Football League continues to serve as a grade-A delivery system for ratings points.
Heading into the third quarter of the 2015 NFL season, the Shield currently accounts for each of the fall’s 10 most-watched telecasts and 21 of the top 25. The four outliers include two of the Republican primary debates and a pair of scripted season premieres on CBS (“NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory”).
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, six of the season’s top 10 broadcasts aired outside of the prime-time window — four were late afternoon (4:20 p.m.) national games carried by Fox and two were on CBS — while the remaining four were installments of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Thus far, the most-watched and highest-rated broadcast of the fall was Fox’s coverage of the Nov. 1 Seahawks-Cowboys game, which averaged 29.4 million viewers and a 17.0 household rating.
The always polarizing Dallas squad have been featured in no fewer than six of the season’s top broadcasts, doubling the number of appearances by runner-up Green Bay. Four of those Cowboys games aired after star quarterback Tony Romo broke his collarbone on Sept. 20, an injury that inadvertently triggered a six-game losing streak for Dallas, which is presently the lone occupant of the NFC East’s basement.
Romo was only one of the first marquee names to go down to injury this season. The Steelers in Week 8 lost the NFL’s leading rusher, Le’veon Bell, to a catastrophic knee injury, and QB Ben Roethlisberger has suffered two distinct setbacks that have sidelined him for at least five games. After incurring any number of bad breaks, the Colts’ field general Andrew Luck may very well be shut down for the season, and everyone from Drew Brees to Jay Cutler to Josh McCown has been forced to sit out games after one or another on-field mishap.
That the fading Cowboys continue to be an automatic ratings draw speaks to the sheer size of its national fan base … and the equally vast cohort of Americans who absolutely despise the team and everything it represents. (To many detractors, owner Jerry Jones is so villainous he may as well be twirling an invisible mustache as he defends the likes of defensive end Greg Hardy, only the latest NFL player to be implicated in an assault on a woman.)
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