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Super Bowl XLIII was just about average on ratings front

February 2, 2009 | 12:17 pm

Santonio Holmes

Going into NBC's Super Bowl XLIII broadcast on Sunday, doubters suspected that Arizona and Pittsburgh wouldn't generate strong ratings for NBC. Both teams play in relatively small media markets, so they lacked the appeal of a New York or Chicago team. And many fans figured that the Steelers were going to defeat the Cardinals.

But competitive games keep viewers around, and fans who stuck with Sunday's broadcast saw Pittsburgh win an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl championship by beating Arizona, 27-23, on a last-minute touchdown.

Ratings for Super Bowls -- or, for that matter, any sports broadcast -- typically suffer when one team takes an early lead. The worst Super Bowl rating (39.4) in the last two decades came from 1990's Super Bowl XXIV, when the San Francisco 49ers trounced the Denver Broncos, 55-10.

By the fourth quarter of that kind of game, not even Super Bowl commercials were enough to keep fans in front of the tube.

Sunday's broadcast, with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as the halftime entertainment, generated a 42.1 overnight rating for NBC. That's lower than last year's all-time record rating (44.7) enjoyed by the broadcast of the New York Giants thrilling, last-second upset of the New England Patriots.

The 42.1 overnight also is slightly below the Super Bowl average (42.5) rating during the last two decades. That should translate into about 90 million viewers.

* Here's the latest Nielsen data, which was released by NBC at 1:20 p.m. (PT). The network described average viewership for the Super Bowl XLIII broadcast as "second [best] in Super Bowl history, behind only last year's game (97.5 million)."

Here is the data that NBC sent along for the most-watched television broadcasts measured by average viewers:

Broadcast                    average viewers         network    year

1. "MASH" Finale,         106.0 million viewers CBS          1983
2. Super Bowl XLII         97.5 million               Fox          2008
3. Super Bowl XLIII        95.4 million               NBC          2009

Here are the top 25 markets for Sundays broadcast, ratings-wise, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided by NBC. (You won't find Los Angeles, 63rd with a 35.3 rating, or New York City, 46th, with a 307.9 rating, among the local-market leaders.)

1. Pittsburgh  53.6
2. Norfolk  52.6
3. Jacksonville  50.6
4. Buffalo  50.4
5. Richmond  49.3
6. Tampa  49.2
7. Ft. Myers  48.1
8. Cleveland  47.7
9. Phoenix  47.5
10. Indianapolis 47.4
11. Nashville  47.2
12. Washington, D.C. 46.7
13. Columbus  46.5
14. Orlando  46.4
15. Memphis  46.3
16. Philadelphia 46.2
17. New Orleans 45.7
18. Knoxville  45.2
19. Baltimore  45.0
T20. Denver  44.7
T20. Las Vegas 44.7
T20. Greensboro 44.7
T23. Charlotte  44.6
T23. Greenville 44.6
25. St. Louis  44.5

In other TV news, NBC just announced that Super Bowl XXLIIl most valuable player Santonio Holmes of the Pittsburgh Steelers will make an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

-- Greg Johnson

Editor's note: Average viewership data added to this post at 1:30 p.m. (PT).

Photo: Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes speaks during a news conference this morning in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Morry Gash / Associated Press