The excitement surrounding the changes the Chicago Bears have made this off-season – hiring Matt Nagy as the new head coach and the blockbuster trade acquiring linebacker Khalil Mack in a trade with the Oakland Raiders paid off in the local ratings in the first game of the season against the Green Bay Packers on the Sunday Night Football national stage, marking the eighth consecutive year the Bears played in primetime at Lambeau Field.
But despite a game for the ages – which saw the Bears blow a 20-0 lead at halftime and lose 24-23 amid a spectacular comeback by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers after he (appeared) to be injured in the first half – it was not enough to stem erosion from last year’s matchup.
The Bears- Packers game drew a 35.3 household live-plus-same day rating and 55 share for NBC’s WMAQ-TV, with more than 1.1 million homes tuning in. It was the highest rated Bears game locally since 2013 and the highest-rated program overall in the Chicago market since Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, seeing the Chicago Cubs win their first title in 108 years. Compared to a Thursday night Bears-Packers game from Lambeau on CBS last year, the rating was up 87 percent and up a whopping 182 percent from 2016, when Bears-Packers faced a Cubs playoff game and a Donald Trump-Hilary Clinton joint appearance at the Al Smith Dinner.
Milwaukee’s WTMJ however, topped all metered markets with a 49.6/71 household rating and share.
While the game generated significant interest in this part of the country, the same couldn’t be said nationally. The Bears-Packers game drew a final rating of 12.5 and drew 22.1 million viewers for NBC, down 7 percent in rating and 9 percent in viewership from last year’s Sunday Night Football opener between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, featuring teams with larger fan bases. Despite the historic Rodgers comeback, the SNF opener hit a decade-low in ratings and a nine-year low in total viewers. Even worse, SNF scored a 7.5 rating in the key 18-49 demo, down 17 percent from last year and also hit a ten-year low in the demo.
The good news for SNF is it was the highest-rated program of the week in all categories (even outdrawing the Falcons-Eagles “kickoff” game Thursday) and stomped the competing Miss America Pageant on ABC, who eliminated the swimsuit competition for the first time. The program earned only a 0.7 rating in the 18-49 demo and a weak 4.3 million viewers.
As for the Sunday afternoon games, both CBS and Fox registered increases from a year ago, scoring 23 percent and 5 percent increases, respectively.
There have been concern among advertisers and networks on how the anthem protests would affect the ratings this season as the issue continues to be front and center thanks to President Trump, who is desperately trying to making kneeling athletes a campaign issue in this year’s mid-terms. The President made fun of the NFL’s kickoff ratings in a tweet this weekend.
Despite the Bears blowing a lead against its arch rivals, it did little to dampen the enthusiasm fans have for the upcoming season with the off-season moves – at least we didn’t the media drag out old Chicago sports tropes (mainly involving the Cubs’ futility before the 2016 World Series win.) The Bears’ next game is also in prime-time, the home opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football September 17, carried by ESPN and locally over ABC’s WLS-TV, delaying reality show Castaways until 12:05 am. A scheduled repeat of The Good Doctor will air the following night at 1:05 a.m.