Bears-Lions a surprisingly strong draw on Turkey Day…why?

Two bad teams equals good ratings for the NFL…somehow 

You’d think given the horrid records of two of the worst teams in football playing against each other, people would eschew this matchup to find something else better to do right? 

Well, that theory was tested on Thanksgiving Day when the 3-7 Chicago Bears took on the 0-9-1 Detroit Lions – the game in the early window on Fox. And it turned out even though success had eluded both teams on the field this season (with an awful game to boot), at least they were a success on the tube. 

According to Nielsen, the Bears-Lions game drew a surprisingly large 26.7 million viewers, finishing only behind the Las Vegas Raiders-Dallas Cowboys nightcap on CBS, which drew a whopping 37.8 viewers for a game that went to overtime and ahead of the 19.4 million for the NBC primetime game, a blowout Buffalo Bills-New Orleans Saints game, featuring two of the league’s smallest-market teams. 

In Chicago, the Bears drew a 22.6 household number for Fox’s WFLD, up 4 percent from the previous week’s Bears game on CBS’ WBBM-TV, a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. 

To put this in a ratings perspective, the Bears-Lions game was the second most-watched program of the entire week regardless of daypart and the fourth-watched game of the season so far. Bears-Lions also outdrew the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (22 million), The Westminster Dog Show head-to-head (11.3 million), the LA Rams-Green Bay Packers game on Fox Sunday (24.7 million.) Put in a larger perspective, the Bears-Lions game drew more viewers than the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, any World Series game, and any episode of any scripted or unscripted entertainment program this calendar year. 

Bears-Lions also drew more viewers than any college football game Saturday, including the Ohio State-Michigan “Big Game” matchup (15.8 million.)  

You’re probably asking…why? 

For one, chatter about Matt Nagy’s future dominated Chicago sports talk, on-air, online, and everywhere else, with “Fire Nagy” chants popping up over town, from sporting events to the line at the DMV. Last week, a false report from on Nagy’s future after the Lions game had the media running like crazy. There’s no doubt Chicago sports fans are the most loyal and passionate fans on the planet, and if they didn’t care, then we wouldn’t see all this hoopla. Keep in mind when WGN-TV carried Cubs games, the broadcasts generally dominated the ratings – especially during the summer when the major networks were in reruns even though the team went nowhere in the standings.

Not only the Bears’ soap-opera like saga has dominated sports talk locally but also in national football circles. In fact, the Bears’ drama may have driven more viewers into the tent. The trainwreck nonsense has proven to be a big TV hit with viewers with fans and non-fans alike. After all, there was a reason why more than 30 million viewers tuned in to the early rounds of American Idol (when it was capable of doing so) to see the auditions of singers who can’t sing like their life depended on it (i.e. William Hung.) Another example is the fiasco of Who Wants To Marry A MultiMillionaire, which drew 22 million viewers for Fox in 2000 – not to mention a lot of scorn. Yet another is Jerry Springer, whose non-stop fighting between guests drew millions of viewers each day in the late 1990s. 

Another reason is the allure of the Lions’ winless record, and whether or not they would win their first game. And it’s Thanksgiving, so other than the dog show and with people preparing for the big gathering, there was nothing else really on. 

The Bears success – on the small screen at least, convinced the NFL to keep the team in primetime when they play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, making this the 16th consecutive year they will play their archrivals under the lights (a 2005 Christmas game doesn’t count because it was played in the afternoon.) Plus, Sunday Night Football isn’t really the draw media pundits make it out to be given Fox and CBS’ late afternoon windows have often outdrawn it. Last year, this space advocated the NFL to stop scheduling Bears games in primetime due to the team’s poor performance but of course, the dumbasses in the league are never going to listen to this publication. Yes, there are social media grievances about the NFL Lakefront Team being on sports’ so-called biggest stage, but you know what I said about that kind of influence earlier in the week

Think of this like a Resse’s Peanut Butter Cup. People like trainwrecks. People like football. People like trainwrecks and football. You know how the saying goes… never underestimate the taste of the American TV viewer. 

[This post was updated at 2:00 a.m. on 2021-12-10.]


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