Christmas Day no longer the NBA’s? Hello NFL
By: Samantha Post
Dec. 16, 2022
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Not only will sports fans get their yearly dose of NBA this Christmas – with the annual five-game slate of top tier matchups – but they will also get not one… not two… but three NFL games.
While the NFL has played on Christmas Day for the past three years now, NFL fans will get an triple-header this Christmas – 10 straight hours of football on the most festive day of the year.
It is no surprise that, like the NBA, the NFL has teed up a schedule of great matchups for the holiday, with four of the six teams playing having made the playoffs last season, including the last two Super Bowl champions. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.
This Christmas will start off with the Packers against the Dolphins, followed by the Broncos against the Rams including a special Nickelodeon telecast, and topped off by the Buccaneers against the Cardinals. All other week 16 NFL games, apart from regularly scheduled Thursday Night and Monday Night games, have been moved up to Saturday, the 24th, including a Christmas Eve game between the Steelers and Raiders.
Now, what will this NFL triple-header mean for the NBA and their long-standing dominance of sport spectatorship on Christmas Day? The NBA has played games on Christmas since 1947, with five games of high rivalry played on Dec. 25 each year since 2008. The holiday games annually draw the league’s biggest audience, aside from the NBA Finals.
Last season’s viewership numbers between the NFL and NBA Christmas Day games alone show tremendous disparity, and that was only when the NFL had two games on air, relative to the NBA’s five. The Packers vs. Browns game on Christmas last year drew an audience of 28.6 million viewers on FOX: a 22% increase in ratings and 42% increase in viewership from the Christmas Day NFL game the year prior that charted as the most-watched live sports event ever on Christmas Day (Sports Media Watch). The NFL’s other Christmas Day game last year between the Colts and Cardinals drew 12.6 million viewers exclusively on NFL Network, yet none of last year’s NBA games on Christmas Day even broke 6 million viewers. While this vast difference in NFL and NBA viewership is not a new phenomenon, when the NFL was not also playing on Christmas Day, the NBA was able to break 10 million viewers (Sports Media Watch). The question thus remains, will Christmas viewership numbers continue plummeting for the NBA as the NFL expands their holiday presence?
In addition to the NFL’s increase in number of games scheduled for play this Christmas, it is very likely that their Nickelodeon telecast will only continue widen this already tremendous gap in NBA and NFL holiday viewership, with the kid-friendly broadcast to captivate an even greater audience through familial appeal. This Christmas Day simulcast – ‘NFL Nickmas’ – will notably mark the expansion of the NFL’s Emmy-Award winning partnership with the children’s television network, the conjoint telecast previously only airing once a season and limited to Wild Card weekend. I would not be surprised if we also see a Nickelodeon simulcast for an NFL Thanksgiving game in years to come, should this Christmas showing prove successful for the league’s youth market penetration.
While the NBA is likely to take an even larger hit in viewership this Christmas than usual to the NFL and its triple-header, it will be interesting to see if the NFL’s scheduling strategy changes when Christmas does not fall on a football Sunday in years to come. Will the NBA ever get its Christmas reins back? Only time will tell. Happy holidays everyone.