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Super Bowl viewership plunges​ to lowest in 15 years; posts worst rating since 1969

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The game failed to attract more than 100 million viewers

Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sunday's Super Bowl between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs capped off a disappointing financial year for the National Football League by posting the worst viewership for a championship game in 15 years and ratings among the worst ever.

According to figures released Tuesday by CBS Sports, America's biggest broadcast event garnered a total audience of 96.4 million viewers on Sunday night, a stark 5% drop-off from last year's Super Bowl on Fox and well below the 114.4 million audience that tuned in for the most-watched Super Bowl in 2015, Deadline reported.

The big game was the first in more than a decade that failed to attract more than 100 million viewers and was the least-watched Super Bowl since 2007, when 93.18 million tuned in to watch the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Chicago Bears. In fact, if the viewership hadn't been buoyed by the largest-ever cohort of 5.7 million online streamers, ratings would have been even worse.

Nielsen Media Research — the firm which handles TV viewership data — was uncharacteristically late in releasing data this time around, causing several to surmise that the delay signaled bad news for the game's figures was forthcoming. It appears they were right.

Nielsen's rating system, which goes beyond just viewership totals to score programming based on audience share and other metrics, was especially unkind to Sunday's event. According to Nielsen ratings compiled by Sports Media Watch, this year's game earned the lowest household rating (38.2) since 1969, when the league was just 3 years old.

In its report, Deadline noted that the poor showing isn't necessarily a surprise given the fact that ratings were down 10% all year. In December, the ratings plunge forced networks to slash ad prices and scramble to make advertisers happy. At the time the entertainment news outlet suggested that "backlash from some fans over the league's social justice efforts, including its embrace of Black Lives Matter," was a contributing factor.

But in its Tuesday report, Deadline suggested that the lopsided on-field action may have made matters even worse.

"Despite technical and cultural efforts to make the Covid-19 restrictions of Sunday's game a non-event, the action on the field was just not the kind of drama that sports analysts and CBS programmers were anticipating. Which, with two less than top market teams participating, likely saw a lot of viewers clicking elsewhere on the first Sunday of February as the outcome became obvious long before the game was over," the report stated.

The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 in the game.

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