Last year's Super Bowl was a big disappointment from a ratings perspective, posting the lowest viewership numbers in over a decade. This year, things are much closer to normal. The Super Bowl LVI ratings were released on Tuesday and over 100 million people tuned into the NBC broadcast to watch the Los Angeles Rams take down the Cincinnati Bengals. Via the Hollywood Reporter:
The broadcast averaged 99.18 million viewers on NBC and an additional 1.03 million on Telemundo for an over-the-air tally of 100.21 million viewers.
The 99.18 million viewers for the NBC telecast is an 8 percent improvement over last year’s game, which brought in 91.63 million viewers on CBS and 96.4 million across all platforms
These are only the traditional broadcast numbers, meaning streaming numbers have yet to be released. It's unlikely those streaming numbers will allow Super Bowl LVI to top the 113 million viewers who watched the Chiefs-Niners Super Bowl two years ago (the last significant sporting event before the pandemic), but the numbers are already much higher than last year's affair between the Bucs and the Chiefs.
This continues a larger trend that we saw over the course of the year. NFL ratings fell through the floor in 2020 for a variety of reasons-- it was an election year, we still don't have an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected in-home viewership habits, it wasn't as fun without fans in the stands, whatever. The 2021 season was much closer to the standard numbers we'd expect.
Super Bowl LVI eclipsing 100 million viewers should be considered a success because the Big Game did not feature many Big Names. The Bengals are a small-market team. The Rams reside in one of the country's biggest markets but have no real fanbase to speak of there. Matthew Stafford played for the Lions until last year. As good a QB he is, he isn't a ratings-driver on the level of Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes. Joe Burrow is awesome and beloved by football fans in general but still pretty new to the scene for the 50 million or so people who only watch the Super Bowl every year. None of the NFL's handful of marquee stars were in this game, yet numbers improved over last season (which featured the marquee stars in Brady and Mahomes) and likely gives the networks optimism that we're on our way back to pre-pandemic viewership numbers.
The NFL is inevitable. This year's ratings should serve as a reminder.
UPDATE: Streaming numbers were released on Tuesday afternoon and just north of 12 million viewers were added to the total tally, bringing Super Bowl LVI viewership to 112 million-- just below Super Bowl LIV's 113 million, per WSJ.