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‘Sunday Night Football’ ratings hold the line against second debate

NEW YORK, N.Y. — NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” viewership took a hard hit from the second presidential debate, but stayed shakily on its...
New York Giants v Green Bay Packers

NEW YORK, N.Y. — NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” viewership took a hard hit from the second presidential debate, but stayed shakily on its feet.

The Green Bay Packers’ 23-16 victory over the New York Giants brought in a 10.2 overnight rating Sunday night. The game, between two of the most popular teams in the NFL, had to compete with the second presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which appears to have drawn a huge audience, though not quite as big as the one that preceded it.

The overnight rating for Packers-Giants was down from last year’s week five game, which saw the Giants taking on the San Francisco 49ers, and which didn’t have to go up against a debate. That game brought in a 13.1 overnight rating and 19.6 million viewers for NBC.

When final viewership numbers are released later Monday, this Sunday’s game should bring in at least 15 million viewers.

That’s a big number all things considered, but far below what “Sunday Night Football” usually brings in (for example, “SNF” averaged 22.5 million viewers over all of last season, the largest audience in the its 11 year run), and it appears that the debate had a big impact.

Before the debate, at 8:30 p.m. ET, about 19 million people were watching the game, according to early data. That number dropped significantly when the debate started, to about 15 million at 9 p.m. ET. It kept dropping after that before rebounding at 10:30 p.m. ET after the debate ended.

NBC’s solid viewership Sunday night against big competition should make the league and its broadcasting partners breathe a bit easier than they have been recently after the sluggish viewership for games so far this season.

Four weeks into the season, the league’s ratings are down 11% across the board and the surprisingly sluggish start has been noticeable. Some have said that it’s too early to judge the season while others have blamed the lack of key match ups.

Sunday night’s game appears to show that these theories are correct and gives the league and its broadcasting partners plenty of reasons to be optimistic going forward.

To get the overnight rating, Nielsen took the percentage of households watching in 52 US markets and came up with an average. A 10.2 overnight rating means 10.2% of households in these 52 markets tuned into the game Sunday night.

Nielsen usually gets the overnight rating from 56 markets, but four markets — Jacksonville, Raleigh-Durham, Orlando, and Norfolk were not reported — due to damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.

The last time a NFL game took on a debate it was tackled for a big loss in terms of viewership.

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” went up against the first presidential debate on September 26 — the most watched debate in U.S. history, with more than 80 million viewers — and brought in an average of 8 million viewers, the program’s lowest viewership in decades.

The good news from the NFL’s perspective is that it will not have to go against another presidential debate this season. The third debate takes place on Wednesday, October 19, away from football.