Outside of the Summer Olympics, no televised sporting event draws anywhere near the number of viewers that NFL Playoff games routinely receive. During the 2013 NFL Playoffs, every single game has reached an average of more than 20 million viewers, most of them reaching even more. The playoff games that get the most viewers each week are not simply the ones that have the best teams playing in them. The media, the NFL, and the players all play important roles in receiving viewers for any given postseason game.
The lowest rated postseason game of 2013 was the Wild Card Playoff game between the Houston Texans and the Cincinnati Bengals. This game lacked star players, front-page headlines, and any kind of rivalry between the two teams. As a result, it only received an average of 23.6 million viewers, which is very low for an NFL Playoff game.
The Texans beat the Bengals and went on to play the New England Patriots in what has so far been the second most watched playoff game of the year. The game against the Patriots received more viewers than the one against the Bengals for many reasons. First off, the Patriots have Tom Brady, arguably the best player and biggest celebrity in all of football. They also have a storied history in the postseason and a much bigger fan base than the Cincinnati Bengals. These are only part of the reason that this game received an average of 37.7 million viewers, a number 14.1 million higher than the one in the Texans’ previous game.
Earlier in the NFL season, the Texans and Patriots played against each other in a prime-time game that received a large amount of media attention. The Patriots won easily and embarrassed the Texans on national television. This led to the Texans vowing to get revenge on Brady and his team come playoff time. The rivalry was created and the media circus began. The NFL gave this game a much better time spot than it did for the Bengals game because this one was much more enticing to fans. The Bengals game was the earlier of two playoff games played on a Saturday. The Patriots game was the later of two playoff games played on a Sunday. The later games and the Sunday games are commonly reserved for the most hyped up match-ups of the week.
The game with the most viewers in the 2013 NFL Playoffs to date was the Wild Card Playoff game between the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks. Neither one of these teams boasts a large fan base outside of their respective cities, and there is little history between the two young teams as well. The reason that this game received so many viewers is because of the marketability of the two quarterbacks who were playing against each other.
Both the Seahawks’ Russel Wilson and the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III are rookie quarterbacks who were starting in their first playoff game. Only a few times in NFL history have rookie quarterbacks started against each other in the postseason. Robert Griffin III, nicknamed RG3, also became one of the most exciting players to watch in the NFL during the regular season. His team is not a serious Super Bowl contender, but because of his entertaining style of play, people want to watch him play. Throughout the entire 2012/2013 NFL season, RG3 received more media attention than any single other player. The media brought extra attention to this game because RG3 was playing in it and because of the match-up between two rookie quarterbacks.
Overall, the playoff games that receive the most viewers are the ones that the media can easily market. The media needs stories that are front-page worthy and that is exactly what you get with superstar players and rivalries in an NFL playoff game. The easier it is for a game to be hyped up, the better time spot the NFL will give it, and for both of those reasons, more viewers will tune in to watch the game.