Plenty has changed, often rapidly, in the dozen years I’ve been covering sports media in this market. But there’s one thing I was certain never would: The ratings record in Boston for a Patriots television broadcast.
Turns out I may be proven wrong about that once Sunday night’s much-anticipated football festivities in Foxborough are over.
The Patriots’ matchup with the Buccaneers on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” — the first time Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have gone head to head, as perhaps you have heard — has a shot to be the highest-rated Patriots telecast ever in the Boston market.
Given the hype and magnitude of the game, that may not seem terribly surprising. But it would be remarkable if it sets the record, if only because of the unprecedented circumstances of the game that set the ratings standard 14 years ago.
On Dec. 29, 2007, the Patriots completed a 16-0 regular season with a 38-35 victory over the Giants. The stakes and suspense were enough on their own to draw a massive audience, and it did, earning a 50.1 rating and 75 share in Boston. (Rating is the percentage of households with televisions in the market that were tuned in; share is percentage of households with televisions in use.)
There was another factor that boosted those record numbers. When the 2007 schedule was revealed, Patriots-Giants was slated to air on the fledgling NFL Network, with local rights belonging to Ch. 5.
But because of the appeal of the game, and the concern that some New England viewers that didn’t have the NFL Network or Ch. 5 would miss out, the league — after some pressure from Congress — decided to allow the broadcast to be simulcast on other league-partner networks.
In Boston, Chs. 4 and 7 also got to pick up the game. Even if you wanted to watch something else on network television that night, you couldn’t.
The circumstances from that Saturday night — the Patriots’ quest for an unbeaten regular season, the wide availability of the broadcast — added up to unprecedented local ratings.
But Brady vs. Belichick is unprecedented in its own way, two pillars of the NFL’s longest-running dynasty on opposite sides. If the ratings for this, arguably the most anticipated regular-season game in NFL history, don’t surpass Patriots-Giants from Week 17 in ‘07, it will wind up just short of the goal line. If it’s a close game, I bet it sets a ratings record around here.
(The highest-rated NFL game nationally since 2007 is the Patriots-Cowboys game on Fox from November 2019, which got a 19.5 rating and 40 share in the United States.)
There have been other broadcasts that got into the vicinity of the Patriots-Giants ratings in Boston. Here are the Nos. 2-5 highest-rated Patriots broadcasts in history in this market, all of which, for what it’s worth, were New England victories.
2. Nov. 2, 2014: Patriots 43, Broncos 21. 47.2 rating, 69 share. Not far off from the Giants game seven years earlier, right? Airing at 4:25 p.m. on CBS, this was the 16th matchup between Brady and Peyton Manning.
3. Nov. 15, 2015: Patriots 27, Giants 26. 46.3 rating, 69 share. In the 4:25 p.m. window on CBS, the Patriots improved to 9-0 on a Stephen Gostkowski 54-yard field goal with one second left.
4. Dec. 18, 2011: Patriots 41, Broncos 23. 46.0 rating, 68 share. Yes, it’s already been 10 years since Tebowmania gripped the NFL. Crazy. This game was so desirable, with brief phenomenon Tim Tebow having led the Broncos to seven straight wins, that NBC tried everything in its power to flex it away from CBS. CBS ultimately kept the game, and aired it in the most markets of any broadcast it had that season.
5. Oct. 18, 2015: Patriots 34, Colts 27. 44.6 rating, 64 share. A Sunday night battle on NBC, this one is best remembered for a doomed-to-fail formation on a fake punt by the Colts. Maybe something just as ridiculous will happen Sunday night.
NBC, YouTube reach deal
Crisis averted, YouTube TV subscribers. The streaming service and NBC Universal agreed to a new carriage deal late Friday, assuring that its subscribers will be able to watch Sunday night’s Patriots-Buccaneers game on NBC. The previous deal expired Thursday, and there was significant concern that NBC channels, including NBC 10 locally, would go dark on YouTube TV before Sunday’s game. (A continued standoff also would have affected access to NBC Sport Boston’s Celtics broadcasts.) But the sides agreed on a temporary extension late Thursday night to continue negotiating, then finalized the deal the following evening. Phew … Kayla Burton, the daughter of Ch. 4 sports director Steve Burton and granddaughter of late Patriots great Ron Burton, has joined the NFL Network, where her duties will include on-air news updates, field reporting, and contributions on fantasy football coverage. She previously worked as an anchor, reporter, and producer for Western Mass News in Springfield … And in matters unrelated to the NFL, NBC Sports Boston announced its Celtics game and studio broadcast teams. Notable changes: Amina Smith will host game-day studio coverage, while Abby Chin moves to a multiplatform on-site reporter role. Mike Gorman is back for season No. 41 as the play-by-play voice, while Brian Scalabrine, in his seventh full-time year at the network, is the analyst.