The first postseason showdown between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers paid off for Fox and its advertisers, as Sunday’s broadcast delivered the largest audience for an NFC Championship game in four years.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Tampa’s 31-26 road win averaged 44.8 million viewers and a 23.0 rating on Fox, giving the conference its biggest TV turnout since the Falcons routed the Packers in front of 46.3 million viewers and a 25.0 rating in 2017. When streaming impressions and deliveries via the Spanish-language network Fox Deportes were tossed into the stew, Brady’s 10th conference title victory averaged just under 46 million viewers.
The long-awaited postseason meeting between the two future Hall of Famers gave Fox’s advertisers the biggest bang for their buck since the network aired last year’s Super Bowl. Pricing for a 30-second spot in the early afternoon window jumped to north of $2 million a pop, according to media buyers with skin in the game; in exchange for their heady investments, sponsors such as Verizon, Ford, TurboTax, IBM and a host of familiar insurance brands (Allstate, Geico, State Farm, Progressive) generated tens of millions of ad impressions.
Per iSpot.tv data, Allstate made the biggest splash in the NFC title tilt, generating 223.2 million impressions over the course of the Fox broadcast. With an average estimated unit cost of around $2.2 million, Allstate’s cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, or CPM, was a relatively frugal $50.67—which is about half the calculated CPM ($100.78) for the most recent episode of TV’s top-rated scripted drama, This Is Us.
The Brady-Rodgers duel peaked at 53.0 million viewers in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. All told, the Fox broadcast averaged 15.1 million adults 18-49, which is 18 times the size of the average primetime broadcast demo delivery.
In the late window, CBS averaged 41.8 million viewers and a 21.1 household rating with its coverage of the Bills-Chiefs game, which marked a 2% lift compared to the 41.1 million viewers who tuned in for the year-ago Titans-Chiefs broadcast. With streaming figures accounted for, the AFC Championship game averaged 43.2 million viewers.
CBS averaged 15.3 million adults 18-49, up 11% compared to the 13.8 million members of the dollar demo it served up during the year-ago game, which aired in the early window.
Despite spotting Buffalo a nine-point lead early on, the Chiefs cruised to a 38-24 victory, punching their ticket for a return trip to the Super Bowl. The Bills’ defense had no answers for the Patrick Mahomes-Travis Kelce connection, as the two hooked up on 13 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill also scorched the Buffalo secondary, hauling in nine catches for 172 yards.
If the AFC title game was less suspenseful than the earlier matchup—the Chiefs scored three unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter, before tacking on another pair in the back half—the CBS advertisers still got an awful lot of mileage out of their in-game buys. Per iSpot, State Farm scared up 182.6 million impressions during the broadcast, thanks in large part to the on-field heroics of spokesman Mahomes.
Other brands that drew a crowd while funneling upwards of $230 million into CBS’s coffers were Verizon, Progressive, Pepsi, Chevrolet and TurboTax, the latter of which pulled double duty Sunday in serving as the presenting sponsor of both broadcasts. The official accounting software and tax prep sponsor of the NFL also has committed to airing an in-game spot in this year’s Super Bowl, making this the eighth consecutive year TurboTax has suited up for the Big Game.
The Fox and CBS deliveries marked the first time in this expanded NFL postseason that the audience was larger than last year’s. The two networks averaged 44.3 million TV and digital viewers, up 3% from 43 million in 2019.
On the local front, the Bills-Chiefs game put up staggering numbers in the Kansas City market, which ranks 34th among the nation’s media centers with 986,160 TV households. CBS affiliate KCTV-5 averaged a 61.9 rating, as 85% of all TVs in use at the time were tuned in to the game.
The massive local turnout was to be expected, as Kansas City was the NFL’s most diehard fan base throughout the season. Per Nielsen, the Chiefs averaged a 46.5 rating in their home market, topping New Orleans (42.9) and Buffalo (42.0). Those smaller-market ratings left the nation’s largest media centers in the dust, as New York and its 7.45 million TV homes scratched out meager ratings with the Giants (9.8) and Jets (6.6), while No. 2 Los Angeles eked out a 9.2 with the Rams and a 6.8 for the Chargers.
Of course, it’s worth noting that local ratings are all relative. A 9.8 in New York translates to 730,357 households, while a 46.5 in the comparatively tiny Kansas City market equals 458,564 TV homes. In other words, while the Giants reached a larger absolute audience every week, only 10% of New Yorkers watched their games in 2020. The Chiefs, meanwhile, were proportionately a far bigger hit, reaching 47% of their home base.