Ratings predictions for NFL conference championship games, a rare NBA tripleheader, and more. With both dream matchups falling by the wayside this past weekend, how will he fare on NFL Championship Sunday on FOX and CBS?
Without dream fights, how will the NFL conference championships fare?
The NFL obviously wanted Cowboys-Eagles and Bills-Chiefs on Championship Sunday, but for all the social media chatter about the league being rigged, on-field results rarely rattle quite the way executives would like. Thus, the Eagles are home to the 49ers and the Chiefs are home to the Bengals (and Kansas City, rather than what some have speculated was the league’s preferred outcome, neutral site Atlanta).
Truth be told, these games are no mere consolation prizes. Bengals-Chiefs is a rematch of last year’s stunning Cincinnati upset and features two of the game’s brightest stars, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. The Bengals haven’t traditionally been a major television draw, but that is sure to change if the team continues to make deep playoff runs throughout Burrow’s career. Just look at the Chiefs as an example; prior to Mahomes’ arrival, Kansas City was a mediocre televised draw (by NFL standards) despite making the postseason regularly. Mahomes built the team into a major attraction in the league.
The rise of Cincinnati has already given this year’s rematch a different flavor than last year. When these teams met a year ago, the Bengals were a surprise underdog story that had only managed to get so far. This year, the defending AFC champions are no worse than Kansas City’s peers, making Sunday’s rematch more like a clash of the titans.
As for the first window, neither the 49ers nor the Eagles would top the NFC TV draw list, in which the Cowboys, Packers and Buccaneers occupy the top tier. While both teams are big-market, household brands, they just made the playoffs head-to-head. That lack of a meaningful postseason story isn’t necessarily a drag on the ratings, but it robs Sunday’s game of the built-in narrative that FOX would have had with a more established rivalry. The quarterback matchup between Jalen Hurts and “Mr. Irrelevant” Brock Purdy provides some juice, but neither player has been around long enough to really break into the mainstream. In the end, football is what will have to sell this encounter.
In the away era, conference championship weekend is likely to regularly produce crowds approaching or exceeding 50 million. Last year’s 49ers-Rams NFC title game – not exactly the best matchup on paper given the pairing of West Coast teams – crossed the 50 million mark in the last window and the Bengals-Chiefs weren’t far behind at 47.85 million to start the day. It’s fair to expect similar results this time around.
NFC Championship: 49ers-Eagles (3p Sun FOX). Prediction: 45.67M.AFC Championship: Bengals-Chiefs (6:30p Sun CBS). Forecast: 49.18M.
What to expect from ABC’s first NBA tripleheader?
Not counting Christmas, it’s been more than 20 years since the last NBA tripleheader was televised. On May 12, 2002, NBC carried a trio of Game 4 semifinals that started with the Nets-Hornets, continued with the Pistons-Celtics, and ended with the Lakers-Spurs. It was the Network’s sixth playoff-only tripleheader of 2002. If you look only at the regular season, the last over-the-air tripleheader was just a month earlier, on April 14, 2002, when NBC aired Sixers-Magic, Hornets-Bucks and Lakers-Blazers.
It’s hard to believe it took 21 years — a drought he can legally drink — before ABC scheduled an NBA tripleheader. There were years when the NBA’s popularity was skyrocketing (for example, the “Heatles” era) and ABC stubbornly stuck to the 1:00 and 3:30 ET doubleheaders. Better late than never, even if the missed opportunities stick out a decade later with significantly lower audience numbers. Additionally, Saturday’s programming milestone still falls short in one area; NBC tripleheaders typically aired Sundays with a higher rating.
Of the six teams scheduled for Saturday’s tripleheader, the Nuggets and Sixers are title contenders on the rise, the Knicks and Nets are both competent, and the Celtics have the best record in the league. However, it’s the sub-.500 Lakers who take center stage as LeBron James continues to chase the all-time NBA scoring record and the team looks to make its way into the qualifying tournament. A competitive Lakers-Celtics game should offer audiences in line with last year’s equivalent Nets-Warriors game (3.17 million). Expect solid, albeit lower numbers, even for the first few windows.
NBA: Nuggets-Sixers, Knicks-Nets & Lakers-Celtics (3, 5:30 & 8p Sat ABC). Forecast: 1.99, 2.47 and 3.03 million viewers.
Only the Australian government can stop Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, and it took them several tries too. Perhaps Stefanos Tsitsipas can stop Djokovic from winning his fourth consecutive Aussie Open title; he made it sweat in a Roland Garros final two years ago. Either way, this meeting is only for the diehards; there is no casual fan who will wake up at 3:30 ET to watch it. Last year’s Rafael Nadal-Daniil Medvedev final averaged 690,000 spectators. Prediction: 478K.
Men’s Australian Open Final: Novak Djokovic-Stefanos Tsitsipas (3:30a Sun ESPN).
It’s one of the most prestigious tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, but even Torrey Pines knows how to get the National Football League out of the way. Since the NFL moved its postseason up a week, Torrey Pines now coincides with NFL conference championship weekend, meaning a final round on Sunday is out of the question. Instead, the tournament now runs from Wednesday to Saturday. Saturday’s finals last year was the least watched in six years with 2.66m viewers; expect similar results this year.
PGA Tour: Final Round at Torrey Pines (4:30pm Saturday CBS). Forecast: 2.59 million.
Kentucky may not be classified, but it’s still Kentucky. Expect a large crowd for the Wildcats’ matchup with No. 9 Kansas in the latest Big 12/SEC Challenge. So far this season, only three games have surpassed the two million mark. Will it be the fourth? Last year’s match had 2.17 million.
Men’s college basketball: Kansas-Kentucky (8p Sat ESPN). Forecast: 2.01M.
– AFC Divisional Round: Bengals-Bills. Forecast: 41.2 million; Result: 39.3 million—NFC Divisional Round: Cowboys-49ers. Forecast: 45.3 million; result: 45.7 million— AFC Divisional Round: Jaguars-Chiefs. Forecast: 28.8 million; Result: 32.3 million— NFC Divisional Round: Giants-Eagles. Forecast: 33.7 million; result: 28.6 million— UFC 283 preliminaries. Forecast: 1.25 million; result: 1.10 million— NCAA Women’s Gymnastics: Utah-Oklahoma. Forecast: 182K; result: 121K