Football Is Back! And So Are Football's TV Audiences

The first weekends of college and NFL football produced some thrilling on-the-field action – we’re looking at you, David Carr (Las Vegas Raiders quarterback) and Jonathan Doerer (Notre Dame placekicker). They also generated some fascinating changes in viewership and audience composition. Our analysts have crunched the numbers and distilled the results into a highlight reel-worthy compilation of insights we’re excited to share here.  

  • NFL and college football TV streaming audiences grew significantly on Roku devices**: On channels that carried the games during time of gameplay, we observed approximately a 21% increase in reach and 11% increase in streaming hours of NFL games during week 1. By comparison, week one traditional linear TV audiences grew by around 6%. Meanwhile, the reach of channels carrying Saturday’s week one games grew 242% YoY while streaming hours grew 302% YoY. 

  • College football viewership on traditional linear TV returned to 2019 levelsThe average viewing household watched 186 minutes and 3.2 games. This nearly matches data from 2019. 

  • Thursday’s NFL opening night dominates: The kickoff between the Dallas Cowboys – known for decades as “America’s Team” because of its national fanbase – and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the most viewed of the week, with an estimated 41.1M P18+ tuning in. This represents an estimated 10.7% increase from last year’s season opening game (Houston at Kansas City).  

  • Top local markets root for the Chiefs and Packers – the teams that played in the very first Super Bowl: Kansas City and Saint Joseph, both in Missouri, and Green Bay and La Crosse-Eau Claire, both in Wisconsin, claimed four of the top five designated market areas, or DMAs, based on the percentage that tuned-in to NFL football this weekend. 

  • Atlanta local market dominates college football’s opening weekendWith the Georgia Bulldogs upsetting highly ranked Clemson, the Atlanta DMA was the largest audience, according to ACR data from Roku TVs, drawing in more absolute viewers than New York or Los Angeles. In fact, 40% of Roku TV households in Atlanta tuned in to the games on traditional linear TVwhich made it twice as likely as New York or Los Angeles homes to watch 

  • Viewers leave linear to stream NFL’s opening weekend: 16.4% of 2020’s Roku traditional linear TV viewers, as measured by Roku automatic content recognition, or ACR, went on to stream a channel carrying the NFL’s Week 1 during time of gameplay rather than returning to traditional linear TV 

  • Overlapping NCAA and NFL football audiences: 46% of NFL Week 1 traditional linear TV viewers also tuned in to NCAA football’s opening weekend. NFL viewers were 58% more likely to watch the NCAA’s Kickoff than the average Roku TV household. 

  • Streaming audiences of NFL’s opening weekend tend to be younger and wealthier: They were 9% less likely to have P65+ in the household, compared to linear viewers. They also were 27% more likely to have household income of $200,000 or more, compared to linear viewers, and 16% less likely to have income less than $25,000.  

  • Meanwhile, traditional linear TV viewers have gotten older: They were 11% more likely to be P65+11% less likely to be P18-34, and 16% less likely to be P25-34 

  • On traditional linear TV, the top 5 most-watched week one college games featuring teams ranked in the top-25 were: 

1. Georgia (#5) at Clemson (#3), the weekend’s best matchup based on pre-season rankings, with 35% of kickoff weekend viewers tuned in 

2. Notre Dame (#9) at Florida State, with 30% of kickoff viewers tuned in 

3. Alabama (#1) at Miami (#14), with 26% of kickoff viewers tuned in 

4. Ohio State (#4) at Minnesota, with 26% of kickoff viewers tuned in 

5. LSU (#16) at UCLA, with 20% of kickoff viewers tuned in 

On traditional linear TV, in the two weeks leading up to kickoff (8/18 – 8/31), kickoff viewers were most likely to watch: 

  • NFL Preseason Football (52% of kickoff viewers watched) 

  • SportsCenter (39% of kickoff viewers tuned in) 

  • American Ninja Warrior (36% of kickoff viewers tuned in) 

  • The Big Bang Theory (35% of kickoff viewers tuned in) 

  • 2021 Little League World Series (33% of kickoff viewers tuned in) 

Though college and pro seasons have just started, it’s clear that fans have returned – and that they love watching sports on TV streaming. If you’d like to reach and engage your audience on TV streaming, Roku can help. Simply click here to get started.  

** Includes windowed viewership of vMVPD, TV Everywhere (TVE), and subscription video on demand (SVOD) channels that aired the games live, though Roku is unable to report on precisely what content was being watched on these streaming channels.