SPORTS WRAP Cowboys Star in Primetime Ratings, NFL Network Builds Its Audience

SPORTS WRAP Cowboys Star in Primetime Ratings, NFL Network Builds Its Audience

NFL games airing in primetime are breaking records this season, and they share one common denominator: the Dallas Cowboys.

First it was the thrilling September 15th matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.  The Cowboys prevailed in a 41-37 shootout watched by 18.6 million viewers, the most ever for a cable program.

Then on Sunday, the Cowboys scored another television record, defeating the New York Giants in front of 23 million viewers on NBC – the most-watched game in the network’s three year history broadcasting Sunday Night Football.  And which team played in each of the next two most highly rated SNF games this season? The Cowboys, of course.

Love them or hate them, Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, and their traveling football soap opera are delivering huge audiences for the networks this season. NBC’s SNF and ESPN’s MNF viewership are up 4.3% and 4.1 % respectively compared to the same time period last year, thanks in part to the power of the Cowboys’ national brand.

NFL Network

Meanwhile, the NFL Network is banking on the Cowboys’ primetime appeal as Dallas takes on the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night in a game that has playoff ramifications for both teams.

With college football on the sidelines, this weekend’s game is NFLN’s first Saturday night telecast of the season. Thursday night games on the network are so far proving to be a success for the league’s cable outlet. According to Nielsen’s latest coverage estimates, the network is available in 37% of television households across the country, with Thursday night games attracting an average of 3.4 million viewers, despite stiff primetime competition on other networks. Leading the way was a mid-November tilt between AFC East rivals New England Patriots and New York Jets, which pulled in 4.4 million viewers.

Date 2008 NFLN

Thursday Night Football


Viewers (P2+)
11/6/2008 BRONCOS VS. BROWNS 3,083,000
11/13/2008 JETS VS. PATRIOTS 4,411,000
11/20/2008 BENGALS VS. STEELERS 3,226,000
11/27/2008 CARDINALS VS. EAGLES 3,777,000
12/4/2008 RAIDERS VS. CHARGERS 1,899,000
12/11/2008 SAINTS VS. BEARS 3,558,000
Source: The Nielsen Company (November 6, 2008 – December 11, 2008).

Updated 12/23/08:The trend continues! The December 20 game between the Cowboys and Baltimore Raven drew 5.76 million viewers making it the highest viewership for an NFL Network game this season, and the network’s second highest all-time.