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Football Goes Long

1/13/2014 12:00 AM Eastern

When it comes to TV viewing, there’s no doubt that football is king — especially as played by National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell’s charges. The 2013 NFL regular season resulted in upticks for all five of its network carriers, with two of them setting new all-time Nielsen marks. Moreover, the four Wild Card weekend battles that whittled potential Super Bowl XLVIII contenders to eight combined for a record ratings performance for that postseason round, ahead of this past weekend’s divisional action. On the college gridiron, the Bowl Championship Series era ended with Florida State’s thrilling 34-31 win over Auburn. ESPN, home to the new playoff format that will kick off after the conclusion of the 2014 campaign, saw its numbers rise with the final presentation of the BCS quintet of the Orange, Sugar, Rose and Fiesta Bowls, plus the National Championship Game. The following charts underline just how much many Americans love their pigskin action.

2013 NFL Regular-Season Viewership Grows

Bolstered by its national game of the week in the late-Sunday-afternoon window that averaged 27.2 million viewers, Fox averaged 21.7 million to record its most-watched NFL season since it entered the game in 1994.

NFL Network made its eighth season of primetime coverage its best, registering 8 million viewers for its 13-game slate, a 10% jump from 2012, the first year it televised its expanded schedule.

For its part, CBS’s average was up 6% to 17.7 million viewers, its second-best mark with the American Football Conference in 26 years.

Sunday Night Football telecasts edged up 1% to 21.7 million viewers, NBC’s second-best delivery in its eight years; the package was just behind the 21.8 million in 2010. SNF was the top show in primetime for the fourth consecutive fall.

Monday Night Football, meanwhile, has given ESPN the top show in cable for the eight years it has been airing the franchise, and its 13.7 million average was the third best during its tenure.

As for the Wild Card weekend, it was the most-watched ever. Fueled by Fox’s 47.1 million viewers for San Francisco-Green Bay, the best for any of these games since 1988, the four contests averaged 34.7 million viewers.

Bye-Bye to the BCS

ESPN’s last edition of the often-denigrated Bowl Championship Series was the second-best Nielsen performer in the network’s four-year exclusive run with the quintet of contests: the Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Rose Bowls and the BCS National Championship Game. This year’s title tilt — Florida State’s last-second 34-31 defeat of Auburn — averaged a 14.4 rating and 25.6 million viewers. It was the No. 3 telecast in cable history, behind Auburn’s 2011 victory over Oregon (27.3 million viewers) and Alabama’s thrashing of Notre Dame last year (26.4 million). Blue-blood matchups trumped a fantastic finish.

September