The NFL officially concludes its 2020 season on Feb. 7, 2021 from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Despite multiple postponements due to several COVID-19 positive tests from personnel, the league — a full-contact sport — was still able to have 256 games played in the regular season and twelve games in the postseason leading up to Super Bowl LV. Considering the thought of a professional sports league completing an entire season, as scheduled, seemed like an impossibility during the pandemic, especially when compared to their MLB, NBA and NHL counterparts, the NFL making it to the Big Game on-time appears to be a tremendous feat.
The season concludes with two of its biggest stories: the continued prowess of defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs with MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes. And then, there’s 43-year-old Tom Brady, who left the New England Patriots after 20 seasons that featured six Super Bowl championships, 9 AFC titles and 13 AFC title game appearances and landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite a mediocre start to their season, the Bucs have soared ever since — entered their first playoffs in 13 years, became the first wild card team in 10 years to reach the Big Game, and Brady besting fellow future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in their respective home fields to reach Super Bowl LV.
The juxtaposition of the prominent upstart versus the decades-old legend is stark: Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs will have the opportunity to win back-to-back Super Bowls for the first time since the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots — both squads quarterbacked by the aforementioned Tom Brady.
Super Bowl LV will be the first Big Game to be held in the home stadium for one of the teams (Tampa Bay) involved, although there will be a pandemic-set limit of just 22,000 spectators in the stands and the majority of those attending won’t be Buccaneers fans. But will the familiarity of their home stadium provide enough of an advantage for the Buccaneers? Or, are the Chiefs just too good, no matter where they play?
The storylines here are too juicy to resist. There probably exists Brady fatigue from some NFL fans, but even those possessing anti-Brady sentiment will aim to hate-watch the proceedings this Sunday. The NFL (and CBS, no doubt) loves what’s in store: having a household name in Brady as one of the stars of the Big Game facing off against Mahomes who the NFL wants to be its next main face of the league. Super Bowls are usually high-scoring affairs; with these two teams involved, the game seems primed for another offensive shootout.
The Mahomes-Brady battle in their Week 12 regular season matchup was televised on most CBS stations on Nov. 29 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) and it drew 23.1 million viewers — the fifth-largest NFL telecast window audience of the season; third-most for a Sunday afternoon game. Two years ago, they met in the AFC title game and that produced a whopping 53.9 million viewers — second-most for an AFC championship game on-record.
TV patterns has shifted significantly from linear viewing to streaming on demand within the past two years, and especially during the pandemic. But pro football brings a sense of normalcy. And for the second consecutive year, the NFL hits another proverbial home run with its halftime show: The Weeknd. It’s all the benefit from the league’s partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation company since 2019. They’re affiliated with many of the biggest artists in music today, and it keeps the Super Bowl halftime show a significant and relevant event (unlike Maroon 5 from 2019 which seemed like an afterthought).
I inquired with professionals in the media industry to provide their ratings prognostications for the upcoming Super Bowl and its lead-out program “The Equalizer”. To compare or contrast with my predictions, here are their takes:
Marc Berman, Editor-in-Chief of Programming Insider
Super Bowl: 104 million
The Equalizer: 18.7 million
Given the pandemic, I believe viewers en masse will be hungry for The Super Bowl and will gather together to watch. But The Equalizer seems like nothing more than another formulaic CBS crime solver. Nothing can top the original and I think the Eye net should have left well enough alone.
Jon Lewis, Sports Media Watch
I might have come in lower on this prediction before the conference championship games, which held up far better than the Wild Card or Divisional rounds (and also produced the best-possible Super Bowl matchup). While I still think the actual household rating will decline slightly from last year’s 41.6, my prediction is that viewership will increase slightly. I’ll go with 100.8 million.
As for The Equalizer, it’s hard to see any scripted series making a dent on linear TV in 2021. Its only hope is a thriller that provides a disproportionately big fourth-quarter lead-in, even by Super Bowl standards. Even then, my sense is that historic lows are in the cards here. I’ll go with 17.0 million.
Ken Fang, Awful Announcing
Super Bowl Viewership: 97.5 million for Tampa Bay-KC
This year’s Super Bowl will continue the trend of a downward viewership for sports. In this COVID-19 era, live sports viewership is down. You would think it would be the opposite, but a lot of the experience in sports is out-of-home viewership whether it’s at a party or at a sports bar. Due to reduced capacities, lockdowns and restrictions, sports viewership has taken a hit and so will the Super Bowl.
Post Super Bowl Viewership: 21.3 million for The Equalizer
As for The Equalizer, it will do well with the Super Bowl lead-in, but it will be down from the previous year just like the game.
Terence Henderson, T Dog Media
Ratings for the NFL have endured despite the pandemic with a terrific Mahomes vs. Brady matchup, so I’m predicting 99.7 million for the game and 26.5 million for The Equalizer reboot with Queen Latifah.
Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR
111 million for the Super Bowl and 22 million for The Equalizer. I’m betting – along with several advertisers – that cooped-up football fans will want escape in the game. But I’ve seen The Equalizer pilot and I don’t think its going to keep game fans hooked.
Mari Forth, co-host of the Wrestling RHAPup at Rob Has A Podcast
The Super Bowl ratings will be 109 million and the Equalizer ratings will be 20 million. Even though the Equalizer franchise is probably too old for younger generations to realize it’s a remake, I think Queen Latifah has the name recognition to keep the average amount of post show viewers.
Richard Deitsch, sports media columnist at The Athletic and co-host of Prime Time Sports on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan
The more you write and report about sports viewership, as the people in this panel know, the more you understand how many factors make up the viewership numbers. For instance, the colder the weather in the country on Sunday, the higher the rating of this game will be. It’s a great matchup and in a non-COVID universe, I would be very bullish about a viewership prediction. Alas, we are in unprecented times. If the game is close, I think it breaks 100 million. If a blowout, it will go under. I’ll be an optimist: 101.5 million
I loved both Denzel and Edward Woodward in the Robert McCall role in The Equalizer, and I’ll definitely check out Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall. Give me 17.5 million for that one.
Lou D’Ermilio, LOUD Communications, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports media relations
I expect the audience for Super Bowl LV will come in at 102.0 million, a slight year-over-year increase given Patrick Mahomes growing popularity nationally and New England’s keen interest in Tom Brady.
Assuming the 1.5-2 percent growth in the game, I see The Equalizer drawing an audience of about 24.2 million.
Neil Best, Newsday sports columnist
Game: 100.0 million. Viewership should be helped by people having nothing else to do, and by a good matchup, and because it presumably is easier to measure people who are not at bars or parties. The downside is that some casual fans drawn in by the social trappings of the event figure to tune out. So I’ll take a boring, round, middle-range number here.
Post Show: 17.5 million. I looked up “The Equalizer,” because it seemed strange that CBS would use this slot for a 2014 movie. Turns out it’s a new series, and that it stars Queen Latifah. I like Queen Latifah! Maybe she will keep some SB viewers.
Dave Bauder, Associated Press
I’ll go with 102 million for the game. Normally, I’d expect the number to start drifting into the 90s. But it’s Brady vs. Mahomes. And with the pandemic, what else do people have to do?
I’ll say 18.5 million for The Equalizer. I’m not sure a crime drama has a broad enough base of support to do as well as some reality or comedy show that’s less demanding on the viewer, especially when it’s late on Sunday night for much of the country.
Patrick Crakes, Crakes Media Consulting, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports Senior Vice President Programming in Research & Content Strategy
Super Bowl LV = 42.1 Household Rating (+1.2%), 103.5M viewers (+3%); Streaming = 5.0M (+47%); Out of Home = 9.0M (-31%); Spanish Language on ESPN Deportes = 600K (-21%). Total Super Bowl LV across all platforms (Linear, Streaming, OOH & Spanish) = 118.1.0M (+0.4%). Post Super Bowl “The Equalizer” = 17.5M viewers (-27% vs. “The World’s Finest”). NOTE: All Comps are vs. FOX last year.
Powered by a dream match-up at quarterback, Super Bowl LV should post solid viewing compared to the last several years as the showdown between Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady resonates with casual viewers and young adults. The easy to process storyline should drive viewing at kick-off and sustain itself building throughout the game. Importantly, either side jumping out to large lead shouldn’t result in large scale tune-out as both teams and their quarterbacks have legendary reputations for scoring quickly and coming from behind to win. In pandemic related impacts, look for TV Viewing (+1.2%) and Streaming (+47%) in particular to benefit from a big drop in Out Of Home (-31%) as still in place virus driven curfews and closures keep patrons that normally go out for the game at home. Note, that even with the big predicted growth, streaming only makes up 4-5 percent of the total viewing audience. Also, expect some stabilization in the A18-49 demo (+1 percent) as both the awareness build up and growth in at home pandemic influenced viewing help reverse a nine-year decline trend in the key sales demo. Finally, “The Equalizer” will comp poorly to the past couple Super Bowl lead-outs attracting 17.3 million viewers, the lowest in 10 years.
Evan Boyd, Stats by STATS researcher
This will be one of the most watched Super Bowls in history. Not only will we have two of the most popular quarterbacks going head-to-head in what will be an historic matchup no matter what, but because of the global pandemic, we will have even more people watching on their own. Perhaps the viewership will decrease because people cannot have Super Bowl parties, but I think it will actually increase because of it. I think we’ll see 115 million people watching this Super Bowl.
I have never heard of The Equalizer before, but maybe people will be just as interested. I will say 23 million viewers will watch it.
Jimmy Traina, writer at Sports Illustrated and host of SI Media Podcast
Prediction: 102.7 million viewers. Tom Brady’s return to the Super Bowl and his quest for a seventh ring will bring in a significant amount of fringe NFL fans.
20.1 million viewers for The Equalizer:
Andrew Marchand, New York Post sports media columnist
118 million. Great matchup. Great ratings
The Equalizer: 18.4 — I think it will hold some of the audience, but not as much as Colbert did a few years ago.
Jay Posner, sports editor of San Diego Union-Tribune
I’ll go with 106.2 million for the game … Combination of Brady and Mahomes and people (hopefully) staying home will lead to higher audience than in recent years.
As for The Equalizer I’ll guess 22.8 million.
Scott Nolte, KUYY deejay/sports announcer
104.6 million for the game. The GOAT vs. The KID. Tom Brady with his new team vs. a team looking to repeat
The Equalizer: 19 million
Jason Jacobs, KUOO deejay/sports announcer
I think this year’s game will generate as much, if not more, interest than last year’s game. The Mahomes versus Brady rematch is one that should generate a lot of buzz. I’ll go with a slight bump from last year and predict 101.5 million viewers.
I think given how more people will likely be streaming the game than ever before, it doesn’t guarantee the Equalizer to get great numbers. The show doesn’t look too bad, certainly no worse than “The World’s Best”, the last time CBS had the game. I’ll say it gets 22.7 million for its preview. By next week, though, I’ll bet that number drops well below 10 million viewers.
Dan Serafin, News 12 The Bronx/Brooklyn sports anchor
I’m seeing all the ingredients for record-setting viewership for this Super Bowl. Names everyone knows (Brady, Mahomes), the inability for large get-togetherness stretching us all out to more TV’s and an entertaining match-up on the field. I think we’ll get to 115 million.
Post-Super Bowl I’m not terribly interested in The Equalizer, it’ll have to grab me from the start to keep me from its biggest competition… sleep!
Maury Brown, Forbes
There is Patrick Mahomes. There is Tom Brady. There is seeing if Tom Brady can win it all at his age without the Patriots. There is a returning team and the returning Super Bowl MVP from 2020. It all sets up as a battle royale. I’ll say audience surpasses 2020 with 109.5 million.
Michael McCarthy, Senior Writer at Front Office Sports
2021. 99.2 million.
Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady is a classic matchup. But hard to ignore NFL audience drops this season.
David Barron, Houston Chronicle sports media columnist
Given the weather and the Brady factor, I’m going with 108.5 million.
Phillip Swann, TV Answer Man
98 million despite the glamour matchup between Brady and Mahomes. Nothing can stop the viewing decline of traditional TV.