A revival of the 49ers-Cowboys rivalry put up the biggest Wild Card TV ratings in seven years, and while the NFL’s beefed-up playoff scheme may have led to a dilution in the overall competitive balance, the three weekend blowouts still managed to draw a crowd—and nearly $700 million in ad revenue.
Dallas’ 23-17 home loss to San Francisco averaged 41.5 million viewers in the Sunday evening window, marking the highest Wild Card turnout since Tony Romo rallied the Cowboys to a 24-20 win over the Lions in front of an audience of 42.3 million viewers on Jan. 4, 2015. With an average draw of 40.2 million viewers, CBS accounted for 97% of the overall deliveries for Sunday’s game, while the kids-centric Nickelodeon simulcast averaged 1.33 million viewers.
This was the second year ViacomCBS applied the principles of corporate synergy to its NFL postseason coverage; in 2021, Nick’s sidecar presentation of the Bears-Saints Wild Card averaged 2.06 million viewers, good for 7% of the game’s total deliveries.
While Dallas always delivers—50.2 million viewers bore witness as the aphids in Mike McCarthy’s brain elected to run Dak Prescott on a quarterback draw with 14 ticks left on the clock and zero timeouts in the hopper—the rest of the league didn’t rise to the level of Sunday’s razzle-dazzle. Discounting the ESPN/ABC Monday night playoff (final numbers for the Cards-Rams game will be available later today) and its year-ago analogue, the first five Wild Card contests averaged some 31 million viewers, up 30% from 23.8 million.
Last year’s COVID-wracked postseason marked the introduction of the six-game Wild Card schedule. The inaugural Monday night playoff on ESPN/ABC was this season’s new wrinkle.
An amaranthine Tom Brady accounted for the weekend’s second-largest draw, as the defending champion Bucs made quick work of the Eagles in the early Sunday window. Tampa’s 31-15 win averaged 30.4 million viewers on Fox, a four-year high for the network. Kansas City’s primetime demolition of Pittsburgh averaged 28.9 million viewers on NBC, up 11% from the comparable Browns-Steelers melee in 2021, but off 18% versus the Seattle-Philly trudge the previous year.
The Saturday AFC games brought up the rear, as NBC’s early Raiders-Bengals broadcast averaged 27.7 million viewers, while Josh Allen’s brush with perfection in the Pats-Bills beatdown drew 26.4 million viewers on CBS.
Wild Card Weekend generated $687.6 million in ad sales revenue for the NFL’s network partners, according to iSpot.tv data. Among the biggest in-game spenders were the usual suspects: Progressive ($36.5 million), T-Mobile ($21.8 million), Geico ($21 million), Verizon ($20.3 million) and DirecTV Stream ($17.4 million). The latter brand, which has bombarded the airwaves with ads since launching its Serena Williams campaign on Aug. 28, spent $107.7 million on regular-season NFL inventory, making it the league’s seventh-biggest TV spender. The ubiquitous Progressive ($210.7 million), Verizon ($191.1 million) and Geico ($186.8 million) were the top three spendthrifts.
On the heels of the launch of mobile sports betting in New York State, category leader Caesars plunked down $5.9 million in Wild Card Weekend airtime, which amounts to 10% of the brand’s overall in-season NFL investment. After earmarking $24 million for regular-season ads, BetMGM stepped up with a $5.3 million playoff splurge, while DraftKings ponied up $2.5 million. FanDuel sat out the opening round, despite having dropped $48 million between Week 1 and Week 18.