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Super Bowl viewership drops sharply from last year

Mike Florio and Charean WIlliams play a round of "Fill in the Blank" and examine big moments in Super Bowl LV, from the Tom Brady-Tyrann Mathieu trash talk to Rob Gronkowski's standout performance.

In 2020, the Chiefs erased a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win the Super Bowl. In 2021, the Chiefs didn’t even score 10 total points in the Super Bowl.

The difference in interest in the two games showed in the viewership numbers.

After a delay in the release of Nielsen figures that caused many industry observers to fear that the Super Bowl LV viewership numbers would fall far short of Super Bowl LIV, they did. Via Eric Fisher of SportsBusiness Group, the total audience (including out-of-home viewership and all streaming platforms) averaged 96.4 million. Last year, that number reached 113 million.

The depressed number comes from one basic reality: The game stunk. Although ardent football fans continued to watch the Super Bowl because: (1) it’s the Super Bowl; and (2) Patrick Mahomes has a history of erasing big deficits quickly, the casual fan was likely to move on to something else -- especially after the first half.

The ongoing pandemic nevertheless makes the TV performance of the game more vexing. What else were people doing? For the pinnacle of such a quintessentially American sport, the notion that more than 230 million Americans were doing something on an early-February Sunday other than watching the game should be regarded as alarming by the powers-that-be.

At a time when the NFL seems to be obsessed with the development of audiences in other countries, there’s plenty of meat still on the U.S. bone. Maybe, just maybe, the game would benefit more from efforts to come far closer to saturation of the domestic market.

The Nickelodeon broadcast of the Bears-Saints playoff game surely represents a step in that direction, with the league focusing on spreading the football virus to a younger crowd. The league needs more of that kind of creativity in order to get the numbers to where they could be. To where, given the broader connection between football and our broader society, they should be.