With an audience of 111.3 million people, the 2012 Super Bowl barely broke the overall American viewership record of 111 million set by last year’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers. While the ratings, which represent the percentage of television households watching, for traditional scripted programs have fallen dramatically since the mid-1980s, the ratings for Sunday night’s Super Bowl XLVI between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots only slightly lagged the numbers for games from that period. Only in the NFL could a contest between small-market Green Bay and Pittsburgh draw an audience virtually identical to a game between big-market New York City and Boston (Though this was helped by the fact that the Packers and Steelers have two of the three biggest national followings of any NFL franchise, along with the Dallas Cowboys.)
Furthermore, 13 million people watched this year’s Pro Bowl, the meaningless NFL All-Star game, more than watched either the baseball or basketball all-star games. This figure is remarkable given that the quality of play in the Pro Bowl was so poor that even Commissioner Roger Goodell is contemplating ending the annual ritual.
Perhaps no league has ever dominated the American sports landscape the way the National Football League does today.