During the run-up to last week’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, it was hard not to use some form of the word “fiasco.”
Three postponements, as many as 19 Ravens players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, a livid Steelers team, a sidelined MVP and repeated calls to simply cancel the game between AFC North rivals. Not only did the game end up on Wednesday, it had to be played on a Wednesday afternoon, the week after Thanksgiving, because NBC reportedly insisted on keeping its plans to broadcast a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
And yet, despite — or possibly because of — one of the most chaotic prologues in NFL history, the league still scored a ratings hit. At least, relatively.
11.4 million viewers tuned into Ravens-Steelers
Wednesday afternoon’s Ravens-Steelers game drew an average of 11.4 million viewers between television and streaming viewers on NBC, according to Austin Karp’s Sports Business Journal. It even gave the Christmas tree lighting ceremony an apparent ratings bump.
So Ravens-Steelers on NBC on Wednesday from 3:41-6:46pm averaged 11.4 million viewers (streaming + TV). TV only = 10.8 million, marking most-watched weekday afternoon show of 2020 (excluding holidays). Helped Xmas Tree Lighting on NBC rise to 7.4 million
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) December 4, 2020
In Pittsburgh, the game reportedly registered a huge 42.8 rating and 68 share, with Baltimore seeing a 25.0 and 49 in the same numbers.
How good is that? It’s complicated.
As far as any weekday programming goes, it’s massive. As far as a nationally broadcasted NFL game goes, it’s below average. However, when you factor in the date, time and circumstances of the game, the ratings look quite healthy for the league.
Consider that this season’s average Monday Night Football has so far drawn 11.7 million viewers between television and streaming, according to ESPN. That the Ravens-Steelers game came even close to matching that while being played with much of the country at work, with some not even knowing the game was being played that day, is a surprise.
However, losing the numbers of a Ravens-Steelers Thanksgiving game is still a significant net loss for the league and NBC. The popularity of the Steelers likely helped keep the ratings above water, and the Ravens-Steelers rivalry has always delivered strong numbers.
There could have also been a morbid curiosity factor, as the Ravens were playing without several starters after a week-and-a-half of trying to practice around a pandemic. The Steelers eventually beat the Ravens 19-14 to stay undefeated, but the game was much closer than some expected.
How Ravens-Steelers ended up on Wednesday afternoon
The Ravens’ COVID-19 saga began the Monday before Thanksgiving, when three players hit the reserve/COVID-19 list. That kicked off a streak of players testing positive or being sidelined that lasted for more than a week, and the NFL kept pushing back its game in the hopes that the outbreak would be under control.
First, the game was delayed from Thanksgiving to Sunday on Wednesday. Then, Sunday to Tuesday on Friday. Finally, Tuesday to Wednesday on Monday. The NFL kept waiting for the positive tests to subside, the Steelers kept getting angrier and observers kept wondering why the league was still insisting the game be played.
The fallout wasn’t felt just with this game though, as both the Ravens and Steelers’ next games had to be delayed as well to avoid a short break between games. The Steelers will now play the Washington Football Team on Monday, while the Ravens face the Dallas Cowboys — previously a Thursday game — on Tuesday.
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