Super Bowl on CBS draws total audience of 96.4 million viewers, smallest television audience since 2006

NEW YORK -- The pandemic-era Super Bowl between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs reached the big game's smallest television audience since 2006.

An estimated 92 million people tuned in across the country to watch the Bucs' 31-9 victory, the Nielsen company said Tuesday. Add in a record number of people who streamed the game online and CBS said the total audience was 96.4 million.

That's down from the 101.3 million people who watched the 2020 game between Kansas City and San Francisco. The New England Patriots-Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl in 2015 was the most-watched game with 114.4 million viewers.

CBS said Sunday's championship -- annually television's most-watched event -- was the most live-streamed NFL game, averaging 5.7 million viewers per minute, up 65% from last year's Super Bowl. It was also the first NFL game to deliver more than 1 billion total streaming minutes. The total viewership came across all platforms, including the CBS Television Network, CBS Sports and NFL digital properties, Buccaneers and Chiefs mobile properties, Verizon Media mobile properties and ESPN Deportes television and digital properties.

Given that the game turned into a rout, and the coronavirus cut down on the number of annual Super Bowl watch parties, it could have been worse for CBS, said Andy Billings, director of the sports communication program at the University of Alabama.

"There are a lot of people who go to Super Bowl parties,'' Billings said. "They're viewers, but they're really along for the ride.''

The 2006 game between Seattle and Pittsburgh reached 90.7 million viewers. The game cracked the 100 million mark for the first time in 2010, and did so for nine of the next 10 years. Yet with the increased power of streaming services offering more options, that might be a hard figure to reach again.

The Bucs and Chiefs are from relatively small television markets, which also likely held viewership down, said Jeffrey Silverman, science and analytics director for the research firm Samba TV.

The best ratings came in Kansas City (59.9 rating, an increase of 8% over its Super Bowl rating from last year) and, oddly enough, Boston (57 rating) -- meaning more people were interested in the game in the home of Bucs quarterback Tom Brady's old team, the New England Patriots, than his new one. Tampa Bay (52.3) came in third.

New England states all did better than the rest of the country, Samba's research showed.

The natural tendency of viewers to drift away from non-competitive games was tough luck for advertisers who chose to place their commercials in the fourth quarter hoping for a down-to-the-wire finish, said Ashwin Navin, Samba's CEO and co-founder.

"The best deal was in the first half,'' Navin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.