Super Bowl LIII Tanks In The TV Ratings

by James Murphy in NFL  / February 4, 2019


ESPN might be working overtime trying to spin Super Bowl LIII into something other than the boring, poorly played game that it was but not everyone is buying it. More specifically, the American TV viewing public isn’t buying it. The 2019 Super Bowl had the lowest television ratings since 2007. And while the ersatz ‘worldwide leader’ still won’t admit it most actual experts in the broadcasting business place the blame on the preseason NFL level of play and the overall unwatchability of the entire fiasco.

AdAge began their post mortum on Super Bowl LIII by quoting Andrew Whitworth’s pitiful attempt to put his team’s miserable performance in perspective: “At the end of the day, we’re all going to die.” That might be true, but no one will want to watch that on television either. CBS’s Patriots-Rams broadcast averaged a 44.9 household Nielsen rating which represents a 5 percent decline compared to last year’s 47.4 and the lowest overnight rating since 2009.

We’ll return to the serious coverage of the Super Bowl LIII ratings in a moment but first some comic relief thanks to ESPN. The official state newspaper Pravda back in the days of the Soviet Union looks like hard hitting journalism compared to the completely out of touch and willfully clueless NFL propaganda spewing forth from ESPN. In their downright bizarre narrative the game wasn’t boring in the least. Instead it represented defense being played at such a high level that mere mortals couldn’t understand it.

ESPN had the unmitigated gall to call the Patriots win by default over the Rams not only a ‘defensive masterpiece’ but ‘the greatest defensive performance in Super Bowl history’. Forget Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’. Forget Pittsburgh’s ‘Steel Curtain’. And pay no mind to the 1985 Chicago Bears and Buddy Ryan’s smothering defense that was the true catalyst behind arguably the greatest single team in NFL history’. ESPN is one of the NFL’s business partners and no doubt has been given a mandate from above to not say anything disparaging about the Super Bowl. Even so, their desperation in trying to create an alternate universe in which Super Bowl LIII somehow represented football at its highest level is borderline bizarre.

Somehow ESPN’s manages to raise the bar on their bizarro world coverage of the Super Bowl. To their credit, they report on the miserable TV ratings for Super Bowl LIII but just you wait till you hear how they explain it away. Seriously, make sure you’re sitting down for this one:

“Viewership was especially low in New Orleans, where only 26.1 percent of the market tuned into the game, according to Nielsen’s overnight numbers — by far the lowest since New Orleans became a metered ratings market in 1998.”

Yep, ESPN is blaming the ratings slide on the blown pass interference call in the NFC Championship game. Seriously. This is proven by the sort of shoddy analysis and misuse of statistics that gives people who actually understand math migraine headaches:

“New Orleans typically ranks among the top markets in the country when it comes to the percentage of the metro population watching Super Bowls or NFL games in general. By comparison, Super Bowl LII drew a 53.0 rating in New Orleans. The lowest Super Bowl rating in New Orleans in recent history was a 48.4 two years ago — when the rival Atlanta Falcons were in the game.

This year, however, New Orleans actually reveled in boycotting the Super Bowl across the city to make a statement against the officiating error that helped keep the Saints out of the game. Thousands of fans attended anti-Super Bowl events throughout the city, from the “Boycott Bowl” concert and “Blackout and Gold” second-line parade in the French Quarter to the “anti-LIE Bowl” block party uptown.”

While TV ratings are always massaged and revised for days after they’re released the preliminary numbers suggest that last year’s Super Bowl had a viewership of approximately five million more than this year’s Super Bowl. The population of the entire New Orleans metro area is 1,262,000. This isn’t exactly how TV ratings work but let’s assume that last year there were 750,000 viewers in the Big Easy when Super Bowl LII pulled a 53 rating. This year’s rating was 26.1–or slightly less than half of last year’s game. That would represent roughly 375,000 fewer viewers in the New Orleans area. My guess is that the actual numbers of viewers this year and last is a little lower meaning that the ‘New Orleans factor’ might have been responsible for 5% of the decline in overall viewership. Almost certainly, the real impact was less than that.

We’ll leave ESPN and their alternate universe and return to AdAge. Anthony Crupi’s incisive take on the Super Bowl LIII ratings is precisely what the NFL would like ESPN to ‘spin away’. Crupi called the fiasco “one of the most dispiriting, uninspiring Super Bowls in recent memory.” If anything, he’s downplaying the misery factor though he does opine that “the ratings suggest that millions of Americans may have opted for a little extra slumber rather than endure the entire enervating game.”

The real money shot as far as the NFL is concerned:

“Should the final deliveries demonstrate a significant year-over-year decline, that would run counter to the NFL’s season-long ratings narrative. A boom in offensive production and a wealth of close games helped lift the regular-season ratings by 5 percent, while the 10-game playoff series was up 10 percent.” 

The NFL doesn’t like it when their ‘ratings narrative’ gets screwed up but AdAge, unlike ESPN, isn’t in the business of carrying water for Roger Goodell et. al. The article continues to describe the horrific level of play in the game itself. For some reason, most viewers didn’t appreciate the ‘defensive brilliance’ on display. Emphasis added:

“With a grand total of 16 points on the scoreboard at the final whistle, Super Bowl LIII now stands as the lowest-scoring NFL title tilt in history. The Pats and Rams combined for 14 punts. This was nobody’s idea of a good time.

In another bit of bad news for the NFL’s ‘narrative’ the Nevada betting handle for Super Bowl LIII looks pretty solid in preliminary assessments. The NFL has long argued that the fact that people bet on pro football has bearing on TV ratings whatsoever. It would be difficult to account for all of the variables but it would be very interesting to know how much of the TV audience was subjecting themselves to the Super Bowl LIII nightmare just to see if their prop bets and in-game wagers were going to cash?

James Murphy

James Murphy is a preeminent authority on the international gambling industry and has made frequent appearances in the mainstream media including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, CNBC and NPR. He has previously worked as a radio and podcasting host where he broadcast to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice. Murphy also serves as an odds making consultant for sports and ‘non-sport novelty bets’ covering the entertainment industry, politics, technology, financial markets and just about everything else.

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