How Many People Actually Watch the NFL?

How many people actually watch the NFL? This graph shows the percentage of Americans who say they watch football by age group.


The National Football League (NFL) is the most popular sports league in the United States, with an average of 17.6 million viewers per game in the 2018 season.1 This is more than double the average for the second-most popular sports league in the country, Major League Baseball (MLB), which had 8.4 million viewers per game in 2018.2

Despite its popularity, though, there are indications that the NFL’s viewership may be declining. The league saw a 9% decline in ratings between 2016 and 2017,3 and though ratings rebounded somewhat in 2018 (up 5% from 2017),4 that still represents a 4% decline from the 2015 season, which was the most-watched NFL season ever.5

There are a number of possible explanations for the NFL’s declining ratings, including cord-cutting (the trend of consumers cancelling their cable or satellite TV subscriptions),6 competition from other entertainment options (such as streaming services like Netflix or Hulu),7 or simply growing fatigue with the constant stream of news about concussions and other injuries suffered by NFL players.8 Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the NFL’s ratings are not immune to downward pressure.

How many people actually watch the NFL?

In 2017, the NFL had its lowest television ratings in nine years. Some have attributed this to the increase in cord-cutting, while others have said it’s due to the league’s failure to address player safety concussions.Regardless of the reason, the NFL’s television numbers are down, which begs the question: how many people actually watch the NFL?

According to the Nielsen Company

According to the Nielsen Company, about 1.6 million people watch the NFL on television on any given Sunday. This number includes people who watch both live and recorded games.

According to CBS

In 2019, the average NFL game was watched by 16.5 million people. This was a 5% decline from the 2018 season, which averaged 17.6 million viewers per game.

The 2019 NFL regular season saw a total of 2.43 billion viewers, which is a 4% decline from the 2018 season. The Super Bowl is still the most-watched event on television, with 100 million viewers tuning in to watch the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams in February 2019.

Overall, though, the NFL’s ratings have been in decline for several years. In 2015, an average of 20.3 million people watched NFL games; by 2017, that number had dipped to 18.2 million.

According to NBC

How many people actually watch the NFL?

According to NBC, an average of 20 million people tuned in to watch the NFL during the 2016 season. This number is down from the 2015 season, when an average of 21.8 million people tuned in.

Why the discrepancy?

It has been mentioned that the NFL is one of America’s most popular sports. In a 2017 poll, 38% of respondents said that it was their favorite sport to watch. This number is significant because it’s higher than the percentage of people who said they liked baseball (9%), basketball (11%), and soccer (4%). So why is there such a discrepancy between the number of people who say the NFL is their favorite sport and the number that actually watches it?

Different methodologies

Different methodologies often give rise to different conclusions. In the case of NFL viewership, different research firms use different methodologies, which can lead to discrepant conclusions.

Nielsen, for example, uses a methodology that includes live broadcasts, DVR playback and online streams in its estimates. This might account for the higher viewership numbers that it has reported. Other research firms, such as sports marketing firm Repucom, might use a different methodology that doesn’t include all of these factors. This could account for the lower viewership numbers that have been reported by other firms.

It’s also worth noting that the NFL’s own internal research shows that its television ratings are down 11 percent this season. This information is based on a different methodology than the one used by Nielsen, but it adds more credence to the idea that NFL viewership is down this season.

Different target audiences

It’s no secret that the National Football League (NFL) has been struggling to maintain its grip on American audiences in recent years. But just how bad is the decline? And why might it be occurring?

That’s where things get tricky. One recent study found that the NFL’s television ratings are down 7 percent this year, while another found that they’re down 11 percent. Why the discrepancy?

It turns out that there are a couple of factors at play. For one thing, the 7 percent figure comes from a Nielsen study that only looked at live broadcasts, while the 11 percent figure comes from a Sports Business Journal analysis that included both live and delayed broadcasts.

There’s also the fact that Nielsen doesn’t count out-of-home viewing, which has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to technologies like DVRs and streaming services. According to the NFL, about 16 percent of its viewers now watch games outside of their homes.

Finally, it’s worth noting that ratings for other televised sporting events have also declined in recent years, which suggests that the NFL’s troubles may not be entirely unique.


Though the NFL ratings have been in decline for the past few years, there are still a large number of people who watch the NFL. In fact, according to a recent study, 34% of people in the United States say that they watch the NFL either occasionally or regularly. This means that though the NFL ratings may be down, there is still a significant number of people who tune in to watch football games.

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