Richmond can’t kick its addiction to the Washington Football Team — even at 2-7.
Always a ratings juggernaut, the loyalty of local fans was put to the test last Sunday, when the team’s 30-27 loss to Detroit aired on Fox while the final round of The Masters aired at the same time on CBS.
The result was the lowest TV rating in Masters history, as the event barely put a dent in NFL viewership.
The WFT-Detroit game logged a 12.3 rating locally (12.3% of local households were watching), while the Masters had a 3.9 rating.
Richmond wasn’t an aberration — it was the same story across the country, as The Masters, which is normally played in April, joined the NBA Finals and World Series as marquee sporting events that went against the NFL and lost big.
Despite a fear entering the season that ratings would plummet mid-pandemic, that largely hasn’t been the case. The NFL’s national ratings are down about 6%, better than the league did in the last presidential election year, when it lost 14% of its viewership. Since the season began, 26 of the 30 most-watched television programs have been NFL games.
Washington’s rating has hovered around an 11 for most of the season, peaking at 14.7 for a win over the Dallas Cowboys. The low point was a road loss to the New York Giants (9.0) that aired opposite Ravens-Eagles (6.2).
While the ratings keep the Football Team atop the local sports pile by a large margin, they continue a downward trend that correlates with Dan Snyder’s ownership of the team. A brief spike with Robert Griffin III in 2012 has given way to a continued tumble as viewers turn to other NFL teams in larger numbers.
One surprise this season has been a change in the area’s second most-popular team, which has long been the Dallas Cowboys.
With a 9-0 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers have overtaken that spot, which is good news for CBS affiliate WTVR, which broadcasts most games. The Steelers dominated an overmatched Bengals team Sunday, but viewers stuck around, leading Pittsburgh to a 12.2 rating in the time slot over a Bills-Cardinals game that had a thrilling finish, but mustered only a 6.3 rating opposite the Steelers.
One other trend this season has been an increase in viewership in the 4:25 p.m. afternoon time slot, which has beaten NBC’s Sunday night game in the ratings most weeks locally.
The Russell Wilson bump also has faded, as the former Collegiate star and the Seattle Seahawks didn’t move the needle in Sunday night appearances against Arizona and Minnesota. Each of those logged an 11 rating, about average for the program.
Although the NFL has always rated higher than college football, this season the margin has been more difficult to compare. ESPN continues to move games involving UVA and Virginia Tech to the ACC Network, which is not available to Comcast customers. ACC Network programs are not rated by Nielsen.