Whether it was the long summer wait, the commentator carousel that took place in the offseason, or simply the close games that were played, the NFL’s media networks reaped the rewards in Week 1.
When the NFL signed its $110 billion media rights deal in 2021, the league’s pitch included its soaring revenues, robust calendar, legal sports gambling, overseas markets, and an increase in streaming services. All of these factors play a huge part in the spiked numbers in viewership, but ultimately, it’s the product that’ll sell to the audience.
During Week 1, nine of the 16 games were decided by one score — seven by a field goal or less. That’s great news for NFL’s hosting networks at NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN, and Amazon Prime, the latter of which didn’t boast a Week 1 contest but will kick off its new product this week (more on that later).
The league announced a total viewership of 121 million for Week 1 — a five-percent increase from the same time last year, and it’s just getting started. Let’s see how each major network, and their respective new crews, fared in Week 1.
CBS (Sunday afternoons)
CBS averaged 17.042 million viewers (+21%) for its opening weekend doubleheader, its best Week 1 average audience in four years. It was the third-most watched NFL on CBS average audience since 1998 when the NFL returned to the network.
The Booth (lead team)
- Play-by-play Jim Nantz signed a new contract that pays him $10.5 million annually.
- Color commentator Tony Romo signed a 10-year, $180 million deal in 2020.
FOX (Sunday afternoons)
Fox’s slate of earlier games drew 12.147 million viewers and the later games peaked at 18.546 million — both up from last year. The two windows averaged 15.355 million viewers, which is up 11% from last year.
The Booth (lead team)
- FOX lost Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN (we’ll get to them in a second). Kevin Burkhardt is the new primary play-by-play alongside color commentator Greg Olsen. Their salaries are not public.
NBC (Sunday Night Football)
The highly anticipated Buccaneers-Cowboys Sunday night matchup averaged 23.3 million, marking the most-watched SNF debut since Giants-Cowboys in 2017 (24.37 million). Additionally, streaming services (i.e. Peacock) that are not tracked by Nielsen, boosted the average to 25 million —the most-watched SNF season debut since Giants-Cowboys in 2015 (26.77M).
- Play-by-play Mike Tirico took over for veteran Al Michaels, who signed a deal to host Thursday Night Football for Amazon Prime worth $10 million per year. Tirico reportedly earns $10.5 million per year.
- Color commentator Chris Collinsworth signed a deal in Dec. 2021 that pays him $12.5 million per year.
ESPN (Monday Night Football)
Russell Wilson‘s return to Seattle was the most-watched Monday Night Football game since 2009, garnering nearly 20 million viewers — the third-best ESPN Monday night game ever. The alternative ManningCast also drew 1.5 million viewers.
- Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck signed a five-year contract with ESPN worth between $60 million and $75 million.
- Color commentator Troy Aikman joined Buck and left FOX for ESPN, signing a five-year deal with roughly $90 million.
It’s worth noting that NBC hosted both TNF and SNF in Week 1, but that’ll change starting Week 2 when Amazon Prime takes over Thursday Night Football coverage. The first game is a treat: Justin Herbert and the Chargers storm into Kansas City to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Week 1’s Highest-Viewed Games
- Bucs-Cowboys, 24.5 million (NBC)
- Bills-Rams, 21.3 million (NBC)
- Broncos-Seahawks, 19.8 million (ESPN)
- Packers-Vikings, 18.5 million (FOX)
- Steelers-Bengals, 17.5 million (CBS)