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TV Ratings Cause & Effect Starring Deion Sanders and Maybe, Perhaps, Taylor Swift
Deion is a rare case of cause and effect certitude
We’ve all been there. The TV ratings for something have gone up or down and people start to guessing about why. Even when the TV ratings didn’t actually move much. Let’s take an example where they were down seven percent. People will guess at why.
Some of the guesses sound reasonable, and may, in fact be reasonable, but truly getting to any causal certainty when something is up or down by seven percent is something I view as folly. It’s a parlor game and I’m not discouraging you from playing it. It’s fun! But…
I’m suggesting that the proper approach for any reasonable person in that seven percent scenario, is to roll your eyes at anyone offering a causal explanation asserted with authority and certainty. They might be right, but usually that’s a 50-50 proposition where 50-50 sounds better than, but means exactly the same thing as “I don’t know.”
Rule Breaker: Deion Sanders
Last week Nielsen published some data projecting college football conference reach under conference realignment. They included a bit of data on the “Coach Prime Effect” and they stated that big, and immediate effect with authority and certainty! I didn’t roll my eyes at Nielsen.
That’s because, through three weeks of games, local viewing in the Denver market was up eleven hundred and forty-one percent. Not one hundred percent, not two hundred percent, not three hundred percent, but eleven hundred and forty-one percent. 1141%!
That’s a lot more than seven percent. So much more that it’s extremely improbable that anyone would even bother asking you “Why do you think those ratings are up so much?” But if they do, you can confidently and authoritatively look them in the eyes and say with complete certainty, “It’s Deion.”
Taylor Swift: More 7%-ish than Deion-esque?
Taylor Swift at NFL games has caused at lot of chatter and driven a lot of attention. So much so that people are even asking questions about potential TV ratings impact like “Do you think Taylor Swift will have a big impact on Chiefs/Jets rating?” and “What will have more viewers Chiefs/Jets Sunday Night Football or next week’s 49ers/Cowboys game?”
My guess (and it’s just a guess!) is that Taylor Swift is more of a seven percent thing. We have one week of data for a single window where there were two different games, including the Chiefs game Taylor Swift attended, where the Chiefs beat the brakes off of the Bears so badly that Fox switched a lot of the markets getting that game over to Cowboys/Cardinals.
The ratings for that window were actually down versus last year in viewership and in every demographic except 12-17 year old girls which were up eight percent.
Having big impact on NFL ratings versus last year is a much harder thing to pull off than impacting Colorado Buffaloes football in Denver. Last year’s Colorado ratings were puny, but last year’s NFL ratings were, as usual, higher than everything else.
Let’s say last night’s game was up seven percent versus last year’s Chiefs/Buccaneers game (Mahomes/Brady). You might think “A-ha! Taylor Swift!” and you might even be right to think that. But in that scenario, if you’re asked, “But what had bigger impact on the ratings, Swift or the Jets (amazingly!?) making it a close game until very deep into the fourth quarter?” it gets tougher to parse.
Especially if you throw in the great theater that is Robert “THAT’S INTENTIONAL GROUNDING!” Saleh acting like a crazy lunatic with the referee.
So, Chiefs/Jets or Cowboys/49ers?
On paper 49ers/Cowboys is the much better matchup. It’s got the Cowboys and it’s two teams that some are predicting will play in the conference championship. Still, Taylor Swift is so famous that it’s not completely ridiculous to ask the question of which game will have more viewers.
It’s another tough one because even without Taylor Swift, in a close game featuring Mahomes (the most popular quarterback in the NFL) versus a team in the the biggest TV market in the USA, you might guess that game would do pretty well.
Which does better? I don’t know, and I’m just guessing.
But without yet seeing any numbers for last night’s game, I’m going with the 49ers/Cowboys game. If it turns out that last night’s game was up 25% versus last year’s Mahomes v. Brady matchup…I’ll change my mind.
Update: 10/2/23, 3:45P ET: I’ve now seen some preliminary fast affiliate numbers for Chiefs/Jets. The 8:30-9P half hour averaged 20.75 million viewers. That’s up 9 percent compared to the same preliminary half hour for Cowboys/Giants (19.04 million).
The Giants/Cowboys game turned into a 40-0 blowout rendering the other half hour comparisons kind of worthless, but, sadly, it’s still the best comparison to use for this season. The Chiefs/Jets game looks to be the best NBC primetime game so far this season, excluding the Lions/Chiefs Thursday Kickoff game. That’s not Deion-esque, but I’m sure NBC and the NFL are pretty happy about it.
I’m sticking with 49ers/Cowboys doing better, but I’m more uncomfortable with that prediction than I was when I initially made it!
Update 2: 10/2/23, 4:35P ET: NBC has released some data for the game and I’m changing my mind! Chiefs/Jets viewership > 49ers/Cowboys!