As The NFL Dominated TV In 2021, Thursday Night Football Won Big With Final Game Before Move To Amazon's Prime Video

Aaron Rodgers throwing up devil horns after touchdown record
(Image credit: CBS Sports)

As it goes pretty much every year, the NFL has taken the cake, the kit, the kaboodle and then some when it comes to amassing the biggest TV audiences of the year. With the Super Bowl’s 92.8 million-strong viewership topping the overall list of most-watched telecasts, pro football absolutely dominates those rankings. Thursday Night Football in particular earned quite the Christmas treat ahead of its exclusive shift to streaming via Amazon’s Prime Video, with the December 25 contest between the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers securing the second-largest TNF audience ever. Not a bad way to bow out of linear airings, I must say. 

While the Browns/Packers game didn’t formally take place on the titular night, it certainly made Christmas a lot more interesting for football fans. The Thursday Night Football telecast, which aired across both its most recent high-dollar home at Fox and NFL Network, drew a pretty massive crowd of 28.59 million viewers, and averaged a gobsmacking 18-49 demographic rating of 10.8, according to Sports Media Watch. A lot of people tuned in to watch former Jeopardy! guest host Aaron Rodgers break Brett Favre’s record as all-time touchdown leader within the Packers franchise.

For comparison: NCIS is TV’s most-watched scripted series, and it’s still only averaging around a 1.0 demo rating after delayed viewing stats are tallied. 

As stated previously, the Christmas Day game marked the second-largest number of total viewers for any Thursday Night Football game throughout its 15-year history. And it was quite a vast improvement on last year’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, with the Browns and Packers’ audience marking a 42% increase over the 2020 contest’s 20.1 million viewers. The demo rating itself was up 22% over that game’s still mightily impressive 8.9 demo average. 

Even when looking at the more recent past, the Thursday Night Football game also brought in the second-largest TV audience of the current NFL season. The only game watched by more people was another holiday treat, the Thanksgiving telecast between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. That game drew 37.8 million people, which marked the biggest regular season game audience in nearly three decades. 

It’ll be interesting to see if and how Thursday Night Football ratings are handled in the future, considering Amazon isn’t exactly forthcoming with its viewership stats, similar to just about every other streaming service out there (save for Netflix and its limited-scope statistics). But that’ll be where the weekly NFL games will stream exclusively for the next 10 years, with 15 games set to stream on the platform during the 2022 season. I have to think if the numbers are anywhere near as high as they are for linear TV NFL games, Amazon will be slightly more willing to offer detailed ratings info.

Not that the NFL has anything to worry about. Of the 100 most-watched telecasts throughout most of 2021, NFL games counted for around 40 entries on the list, with the Christmas Day TNF game added in. Outside of the NFL, NCAA football and basketball games were also peppered across that list, as well as the World Series, the NBA Finals, and Summer Olympics coverage. It’s safe to say that fans’ love of TV sports isn’t going anywhere, even if Thursday Night Football is. 

While waiting to see how the NFL playoff pictures shapes up going into the new year, be sure to keep track of all the new and returning shows on the way with our 2022 TV premiere schedule!  

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.