Super Bowl ratings up 1 percent

Game draws second-largest TV audience

Updated: Monday January 27, 2003 4:04 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — This lopsided Super Bowl had the second-most TV viewers in NFL title game history: 137.65 million.

ABC’s telecast of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday registered a national rating of 40.7 — 1 percent higher than last year and the best since 2000.

That means an average of 40.7 percent of the country’s TV homes were watching at any given moment.

The viewership estimate, based on everyone who watched at least six minutes, puts Sunday’s game second only to the 1996 Super Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, which was seen by 138.5 million on NBC.

Last year’s game was watched by 131.7 million on Fox.

The Super Bowl is often the most-watched TV program each year, and nine of the 15 highest-rated shows in history are NFL championship games.

In 2002, the New England Patriots’ 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams on a final-play field goal had a 40.4 national rating on Fox. That tied 2001 for the fourth-lowest rating for a Super Bowl since 1972. Sunday’s game ranks 27th of the 32 Super Bowls since then; of course, cable and the Internet have lowered broadcast ratings in general.

On the other hand, because more people own TVs, lower ratings can still translate to higher viewership.

The 2000 rating was 43.2 for ABC’s telecast of St. Louis’ 23-16 victory over Tennessee.

Viewership was consistently high throughout Sunday’s broadcast, starting with 38.8 from 6:30-7 p.m. and rising to 41.5 by the end of the second quarter. Even halftime was popular, with a 40.1 rating from 8-8:30 p.m.

The audience — which advertisers paid ABC an average of just over $2 million per 30-second commercial to reach — dipped from 9-9:30 p.m., during which time Tampa Bay enjoyed its biggest lead, 34-3.

It was in that segment that officials reviewed a ruling that negated a possible touchdown by the Raiders with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter.

As ABC’s broadcasters discussed whether the touchdown should have counted, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said with a laugh to analyst John Madden: “Anything to hold an audience at this point.”

With about six minutes remaining in the game, Oakland wideout Jerry Rice’s touchdown cut his team’s deficit to 34-21, prompting Michaels to say, hope in his voice: “Well, for what it’s worth, at least the Raiders are CLEARLY back in the game.”

Indeed, Oakland’s mini-rally probably helped bring viewers back to the game. The rating rose a bit from 9:30-10 p.m., and hit its peak for the final 18 minutes, from 10-10:18 p.m., with 42.4 percent of the country tuning in.

“There was a significant interest in the game: the matchups, the coaching story with Jon Gruden,” said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now a consultant. “And the game kind of rescued itself late in the third quarter, when Oakland scored a couple of touchdowns. We were headed for a real blowout.”

The record rating for a Super Bowl is the 49.1 that CBS got for San Francisco’s 26-21 victory over Cincinnati in 1982.

The good ratings for this year’s Super Bowl will benefit next year’s broadcaster, CBS, which will sell its ad time based largely on how many viewers were reached this time.

“The biggest benefactor is CBS,” Pilson said. “ABC doesn’t get a single nickel more or less.”