News came out today that FOX got a nice ratings boost for its game-of-the-week broadcast featuring Saints-Bucs, Brady-Brees, and all that jazz. It was a moment of celebration for FOX, which billed it as projecting to be the "most-watched telecast of any kind since Super Bowl LIV" in their PR email blast.
They could have just said "duh" instead, but whatever floats their boat.
Of course, Tom Brady's debut with his new team against Drew Brees and the Saints was going to be a ratings draw. It's two of the most commercially recognizable quarterbacks in the NFL playing the most popular sport in the United States, all with Brady playing his first game outside of New England in 20 years for a team that's been hyped as a sudden Super-Bowl contender trying to dethrone the defending division champs and about 25 other storylines I could name but don't care to mention. Why? It's not sustainable. None of it is.
Let's start with the most obvious point. Now that we've seen Brady playing for the Bucs for the first time, that mystery and intrigue is gone. What would he look like in a new uniform? How would he play? Was it he or the Patriots' fault he played poorly last year? All those storylines are out the window (even if some aren't answered yet), especially for Patriots fans who tuned in for Brady's debut.
You think Bucs games, or any 4:25 p.m. games not featuring the Patriots, are going to get that high of a rating in Boston again? Absolutely not. Patriots fans have seen Brady with his new team. They know what it looks like and what it feels like to see their former lover with his new flame. Some will still watch Brady play, but he's not driving those ratings in New England again unless it's in the postseason.
This isn't to say NFL ratings will be down massively this year. It's to say don't expect the year-over-year numbers to trend in this direction. We've already seen year-over-year numbers trend down for Thursday and Sunday Night Football in Week 1 and those games featured the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the consistently massive ratings draw that is the Dallas Cowboys, respectively.
Ultimately, NFL ratings are driven by a quarterback's national notoriety. It's why Aaron Rodgers is still a ratings draw and why Patrick Mahomes has work to do. Despite the fact that Mahomes is a better quarterback than Rodgers these days, Rodgers has established himself in the national spotlight through years of great play, funny commercials, and dating B-list celebrities. Mahomes is still young in the commercial game and his career. He recently got engaged so I don't see celebrity dating in his future. Either way, it will take him some time to pull in the casual fan, who are the people that ultimately change these numbers.
Brady and Brees were the perfect start for the NFL ratings conversation. They had everything going for them heading into this matchup and the ratings reflect that. However, no regular-season game will produce the same casual intrigue because no other regular-season game can. It took an offseason of hype to get here and the numbers are reflective of that. Nothing more.