As expected, Super Bowl LVIII (58) set a Nielsen television ratings record.
On Monday night, CBS Sports announced that its telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs‘ thrilling overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers was the most-viewed television event in American history with 123.4 million viewers. That tally includes the primary broadcast on CBS, the SpongeBob SquarePants-themed telecast on Nickelodeon and the Paramount+ stream for digital devices.
The massive number shouldn’t be a surprise, and this is before mentioning the oft-debated impact of “the Swifties.” Some of the most-watched title games have featured some combination of dynastic teams, fan bases beyond the participating teams’ markets and at least one high-profile quarterback performing at his peak. In addition, the preceding playoff games in January had set viewership records in their respective
rounds, providing even greater momentum for the Super Bowl itself.
However, what has bumped up the Super Bowl ratings – and the NFL’s ratings overall – over the last decade has been some TV industry gamesmanship. Two of the NFL’s TV partners, CBS and ESPN, have frequently simulcasted regular season and playoff games on sibling channels. CBS has leaned on Nickelodeon to court younger viewers for select games, including the last two Super Bowls it has broadcasted. ESPN has done the same with all of its ESPN channels, the Disney Channel and over-the-air sibling ABC. While ratings on the primary channel are strong enough on their own, adding the other networks puffs up the overall viewership total.
Out-of-home viewership has also provided a shot in the arm for the NFL and its partners, especially after Nielsen corrected some of its processes after undercounting viewers in the initial year of the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s impossible to determine exactly how many people were drawn to the game by the appearance of music icon Taylor Swift (whose boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, won a third championship) or the halftime performance by Usher and friends. However, there’s no question that next year’s game will have a hard act to follow on FOX, which is finally getting into the sports standalone streaming business.