The first game of the NFL’s 100th year wasn’t much fun to watch, but that didn’t stop people from tuning in. The game, which ended in a 10-3 road win for the Green Bay Packers over the Chicago Bears, averaged 22 million viewers for NBC. That’s an increase of roughly 16% compared to the 19 million viewers who watched the comparable game last year, and is the most-watched NFL Kickoff game since 2016, according to NBC.
The solid numbers are a little surprising — football fans like watching entertaining games, and this wasn’t one. There was only one touchdown and the two teams combined for less than 500 yards of total offense.
It likely helped that the Packers and the Bears are among the league’s most notable rivalries, that the Packers have a fanbase that spreads far beyond Wisconsin, and the kickoff games last year and in 2017 both had viewership affected by weather.
Still, Thursday’s ratings are a great start to an important year for the NFL. This is the league’s centennial season, and it’s going all-in to celebrate, but more significant are two vital deals coming up soon: the collective bargaining agreement with the players, which expires after the 2020 season, and the TV rights deals that the league has with its broadcasting partners.
The talks over the CBA are important because it splits up the NFL’s revenue between the league and its players. If the two sides don’t come to an agreement, it could lead to a work stoppage for the 2021 season.
The NFL remains hugely important to the networks. Despite the league having its viewership decline in 2016 and 2017 before rebounding last season, it remains the biggest ratings powerhouse on all of television. And the NFL is important to the networks and their advertisers not just because the league is massively popular, but also because games have to be watched live, which limits fans ability to skip past commercials.