Super Bowl LIII did huge viewership numbers, relative to all other non-Super Bowl American television events. But relative to other recent Super Bowls, New England’s dismal 13–3 victory over the vanishing Rams was a ratings dud, drawing the fewest households to its broadcast in recent NFL history. Per ESPN’s Kevin Seifert:
The New England Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams averaged about 98.2 million viewers on CBS, the lowest since Super Bowl XLII averaged 97.4 million viewers after the 2007 season. The preliminary household rating of 41.1 was the lowest since Super Bowl XXXVII, played after the 2003 season.
A not-insignificant chunk of this ratings dip had to do with sulking baby Saints fans, who skipped the broadcast in record numbers. Just 26 percent of homes in New Orleans tuned in, or less than half the number who watched Super Bowl LII last year. On the one hand, the agonizingly low-wattage game redeemed the decision of whiny Saints fans to boycott the broadcast, which frankly was a disappointing misfire by the universe. On the other hand, it feels right that New England’s sixth championship should be remembered as a low point in recent Super Bowl history by as many metrics as possible.
Anecdotally, it seems like cable-cutting probably played an important part in the low viewership numbers. I, an experienced cable-cutter, raced home from a child’s birthday party to catch the second half of the game. Two things happened when I got home: first, I discovered that my streaming package includes neither CBS nor ESPN Deportes, and so I would’ve had to go find a bar in order to watch the game live; second, I learned that the score at halftime was 3–0, which immediately settled the question of whether I had any interest in making that kind of effort. Probably lots of cable-cutters out there had similar experiences, declining to sort out their streaming situation for a less-than-desirable matchup that quickly devolved into a dreary punt-off. Cable packages have always included the big networks, but a la cart streaming packages may not. I could’ve fired up a stream or made the relatively cheap decision to add CBS to my a la carte menu, but since the game was crap, I did not. If it’d been as easy as flipping to the channel in my cable package, I almost certainly would’ve.
Whatever the cause, there’s a satisfying symmetry to the fact that the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history was watched by the fewest viewers in more than a decade. The result sucked, and the contest sucked, and the halftime show sucked, and also the ratings sucked.