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How this year’s lousy Super Bowl ratings measure up to past games

Nielsen put out a list of the Super Bowl’s TV audience going back to 1967.

How this year’s lousy Super Bowl ratings measure up to past games
[Photo: Xinhua/Wu Xiaoling via Getty Images]
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You were not alone in not watching Super Bowl LV last Sunday. The uneven matchup, in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounced the Kansas City Chiefs, was among the least-watched Super Bowls in recent memory, even as more viewers than ever turned to streaming platforms to watch it.

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According to CBS, 96.4 million viewers tuned in across all platforms, including an average of 5.7 million on streaming. That makes it the most-ever live-streamed NFL game, CBS says, yet another sign of the dramatic shift away from traditional cable TV that has only accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, the viewership was down only slightly from last year, when Fox said the big game between the Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers averaged 102.1 million viewers. But even with streaming numbers factored in, this year’s Super Bowl did not fare especially well.

For a more direct comparison, Nielsen has released a year-by-year breakdown of the Super Bowl’s television audience going back to 1967. By that metric, the 2021 Super Bowl attracted about 92 million TV viewers, the lowest since 2006, when the Seattle Seahawks took on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Seahawks also have the distinction of playing in the most-watched Super Bowl ever, in 2015, when 114 million people tuned in to see them pay the New England Patriots.

Lots of factors can potentially affect viewership on any given year, including the relative appeal of the teams in competition (the Patriots seem to pack them in as a rule) and the level of action within the game itself. This year came with the additional challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, which put a damper on Super Bowl parties across the country and perhaps made the game feel less like the communal event it typically is.

You can check out Nielsen’s full list and analysis here.

About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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