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Bills regular season ratings up 19%, with playoff loss getting a Super number

Alan Pergament

The Buffalo Bills’ 22-19 overtime playoff lost to the Houston Texans had a local rating in the low end of recent Super Bowls.

The game had a combined season-high Nielsen rating of 50.9 in Buffalo on ABC affiliate WKBW-TV (44.9) and ESPN (6.0).

It was the most-viewed NFL wild-card game ever on ESPN and ABC and averaged 26,409,000 viewers, with a high of 35,450,000 during overtime.

National viewership for the Bills-Texans game was up 14% from the viewership for the Texans’ wild-card loss to Indianapolis in 2019.

As impressive as the local rating is, it was two-tenths of a point lower than the 51.1 rating for the Bills’ 10-3 wild-card playoff loss two years ago to Jacksonville on WIVB-TV (Channel 4), the local CBS affiliate.

The Bills-Jacksonville game was played at 1 p.m. Sunday, which may account for the slight difference in ratings for the two playoff games.

The 50.9 rating means 50.9% of TV households in Western New York were tuned into ESPN play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analyst Booger McFarland deifying the Texans' J.J. Watt while calling Saturday’s game.

It is the second highest-rated Bills game in the last 20 years, behind only the Jacksonville playoff game.

There are no comparisons to Bills playoff games in the Super Bowl years because Saturday’s game and the Jacksonville game are the only Bills playoff games since meters started measuring the audience in 2000. The Bills' four Super Bowl losses in the 1990s were played before meters and outside the sweeps periods when diaries measured the audience.

The highest-rated NFL game in Buffalo since meters came here in 2000 was a 57.2 for New England's comeback win over Atlanta in the 2017 Super Bowl. Super Bowls have been getting local ratings in the 50s annually since 2010. Unofficially, the Bills averaged a 42.0 Nielsen rating during the 2019 regular season, up about 19% from the 35.4 rating the games averaged in 2018.

It's worth noting that the Bills were 10-6 this season and 6-10 in 2018.

Of the 16 games this season, 10 had ratings higher than 40. The highest-rated game was the victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” that clinched a playoff berth. It had a 49.4 rating, three-tenths higher than the rating for the Bills' loss at New England the following week.

The lowest-rated game was the opening victory over the New York Jets at 36.0.

Believe it or not, the second lowest-rated game was the victory over Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. It had a 36.2 rating, with the lower rating likely attributed to how many Western New Yorkers were having their holiday dinners with their TV sets off.

Nationally, the Bills win over Dallas was the most-watched NFL game of the season. The Bills had something to do with it, but Dallas likely was the bigger draw because of the chaos surrounding the team this season.

To further illustrate the drawing power of the Cowboys, they had three of the five most-watched NFL games this season despite having an 8-8 record. One of the three games was against the Patriots, who were involved in two of the five most-watched games.

To put the incredible Bills ratings in perspective, a prime-time network show rarely gets a live double-digit rating and programs are considered hits if they get a 5 rating these days and the proper demographics.

Teams in smaller NFL markets like Buffalo, New Orleans, Green Bay and Kansas City typically get higher ratings than teams in large cities that have more entertainment options.

On another Bills ratings note, WIVB’s Christmas night replay of the Bills 51-3 playoff win over the Oakland Raiders in 1991 before their first Super Bowl appearance was a hit. It had a 10.2 rating on the service Comscore that the CBS affiliate has relied on since its owner, Nexstar, dropped Nielsen last year. According to WIVB General Manager Brien Kennedy, the rating was higher than the combined ratings of the top-rated programs on Christmas night on rival broadcasting affiliates.

Nexstar recently made a national deal with Nielsen to return the ratings service to its stations.

That should make Nielsen ratings more readily available in Buffalo. When Nielsen was dropped by WIVB, its rival stations were unable to share ratings publicly to reduce the ability of WIVB to get them for nothing.

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