The fans watching at home noticed, and Super Bowl broadcaster CBS paid the price.
CBS garnered a 44.9 overnight rating for Sunday night’s game, according to Nielsen’s television ratings, the lowest Super Bowl overnight rating since 2009, when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals. Last year’s Super Bowl earned an 47.7 overnight rating.
The lackluster viewership, which may have had something to do with aggrieved fans in New Orleans, ran counter to the success the N.F.L. had on television this season. Every time slot for N.F.L. game earned higher ratings during the 2018 regular season, a total gain of 5 percent.
The regular season pointing one way and the Super Bowl pointing another isn’t necessarily unusual. Both the 2017 and 2018 Super Bowls suffered modest overnight ratings declines from the previous Super Bowl, but nothing compared to the major viewership declines the N.F.L. suffered during both of those regular seasons.
Fans in New Orleans — aggrieved that their hometown Saints missed out on the Super Bowl after a blown call — largely avoided the Super Bowl, as thousands turned out for a French Quarter protest parade instead. Though New Orleans isn’t one of the country’s largest television markets, it is one of the most fervent for football. The Super Bowl earned a 26.1 rating in New Orleans; last year’s Super Bowl earned a 53.0.
Overnight ratings measure the percentage of United States households with televisions in the biggest markets watching a given program. The full ratings, including the final number of how many tens of millions of people watched the Super Bowl, will come out later this week.
They are likely to be augmented by millions of viewers who streamed the game. The game could be streamed free through CBS All Access, a subscription streaming service. More than two million people streamed last year’s Super Bowl.
There was also some unknown number of people who boycotted the game because of what they view as the unfair treatment of Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback who has not been able to land even a backup job with an N.F.L. team the past two seasons. Kaepernick became a controversial figure in 2016 when he began kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality and other issues affecting minorities and economically disadvantaged members of American society.
Despite the decline, the Super Bowl will almost assuredly be the year’s most-watched program, boasting tens of millions more viewers than anything else on television. In a fragmenting market and amid declining audiences for traditional television across the board, football remains king. In 2018, 46 of the top 50 most watched telecasts were N.F.L. games.