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NBC records 12% audience hit with NFL opener

The NFL, which has seen its audience decline significantly the past two seasons, opened its 2018 campaign as the most-watched sporting event since the Winter Olympics, but the Philadelphia Eagles' weathered-delay win over the Atlanta Falcons saw viewership decline 12% from the start of the 2017 campaign.

NBC (US)'s coverage of the Sept. 6 "NFL Kickoff Game" averaged 19.5 million viewers on a Total Audience Delivery, or TAD, basis, comprising linear watching on the network and streaming across NBC Sports Digital and NFL Digital platforms, according to Fast National data from Nielsen Holdings PLC and digital measurement from Adobe Analytics.

That marked a 12% decline from the TAD average of 22.2 million for Kansas City-New England last year and stands as the league’s least-watched first game since 2008 when the New York Giants-Washington drew 13.5 million viewers. The kickoff of that contest was moved up until 7 p.m. ET to accommodate late Sen. John McCain’s presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

Last night’s contest averaged 19.0 million watchers, while the digital entries delivered an average-minute-audience of 570,000, a 61% jump from 355,000 last year, and the most ever for a game that is part of the league's "Sunday Night Football" package. The broadcast network pulled in 21.8 million viewers on average with its presentation of the 2017 kickoff contest.

NBC said the 19.0 million average linear audience more than doubled the combined 9.4 million viewership on ABC (US), CBS (US) and FOX (US).

Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, using data from comScore Inc.'s TV Essentials, estimated in March that live ratings for the NFL's regular season games were down 17.8% on average year over year during the 2017-2018 season.

The 2017 regular season saw the average NFL game telecast decline 9.7% to 14.9 million viewers — following an 8% drop during the 2016 campaign.