NFL ratings continue to rise ahead of upcoming TV deal negotiations

This time last year, the Vikings and Rams played a thrilling Thursday Night Football game during Week Four of the 2018 NFL season.

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The same time this year, the Eagles and Packers played in a similarly electrifying, high-scoring game on Thursday, with only one key difference.

This week's game saw an 18 percent increase in viewership for an NFL program known to be a bit lower in the pecking order, and the timing couldn’t be better as the league prepares for negotiations on several upcoming TV deals.

On NFL Network, TNF games are among the lowest-rated nationally televised NFL broadcasts, with critics claiming the games televised on Thursday Night Football are generally lower quality than other primetime games on Sundays and Mondays.

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is introduced as he runs out on the field before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

This week’s Thursday Night Football was the first one to be aired on broadcast TV this year, and happens to be the best TNF broadcast debut since 2015, a year that remains the high water mark for the league in terms of ratings and viewership.

Ratings appear to be stabilizing for the NFL after two straight seasons of declines during the politically tumultuous years of 2016 and 2017 that had raised questions about the league’s on-field product.

The league’s ratings began to rebound last year, with this year’s results showing continued growth in terms of audiences tuning in to games.

"The NFL has done a good job of getting the narrative under control."

-  Former NFL player Chris Valletta to "FOX & Friends"

"For one, the stories are a little better,” former NFL player Chris Valletta told "FOX & Friends." "The Eagles-Packers game last week was really, really good, with drama right until the end."

"But I also think the NFL has done a good job of getting the narrative under control," Valletta added. "2014 to 2017 was a tough few years with personal conduct policies. It seems all we heard about was domestic violence, child abuse and murder and all these crazy things. Kneeling, protesting.”

“I was part of the committee that advised Commissioner Goodell for the conduct policy revisions, and it actually made an impact. You’re not hearing those kinds of stories coming out of the NFL right now in terms of headlines.”

These changes the league has made over the last several years appear to be paying off. Last year, the average NFL game drew 15.8 million viewers during the regular 2018 season, marking an increase of 5 percent when compared to 2017, when games drew an average audience of 14.9 million viewers.

This season, the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Chicago Bears in Week One averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 22.7 million, which is the most-watched sporting event since Super Bowl LIII in February, according to television and data analytics company Nielsen.

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The steady increase in ratings and viewership will certainly help the NFL as they prepare to negotiate their contract for Monday Night Football with Disney’s ESPN, which will expire after the 2021 season. The league’s contracts with FOX, NBC and CBS are up a year later.