The television viewership record that was set by last year’s Super Bowl is no more. The 2015 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks set a new mark, averaging 114.4 million viewers per minute on NBC’s Sunday night broadcast, becoming the most watched event in American TV history.
After the Patriots beat the Seahawks in one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time, many expected the contest to set viewership records. The game wasn’t decided until the final minute, pitting the defending champs against the closest thing the NFL has seen to a dynasty in the last 15 years. In the days leading up to the game, other issues like “Deflategate” added intrigue to the game.
“You had a lot of controversy and other stories going on around the game leading up to the Super Bowl,” Dennis Deninger, professor at the Syracuse University Dept. of Sport Management and former ESPN production executive, told International Business Times. "The Super Bowl has been the center of media attention. It's the most watched show every year in this century, and all these extra stories, and the drama of ‘Will this be Tom Brady’s last chance?’ or ‘Will the Seahawks become this dynasty and win two in a row for the first time since the Patriots won two in a row?’ All these great stories drive people’s interest, so it’s not surprising to me at all.”
The Seahawks have now been a part of the two most watched TV events in U.S. history, as an average of 111.5 million people tuned into last year’s game against the Denver Broncos. The 2014 Super Bowl wasn’t nearly as close as Sunday’s contest, with Seattle winning by 35 points and taking a 29-0 lead on the first play of the second half.
Super Bowl viewership has increased nearly every year, since 2002, when the Patriots won their first title. In the last 13 years, only the 2005 and 2013 Super Bowls have seen a decrease in average total viewers, compared to the previous year’s championship game.
The 2009 Super Bowl set a then-record for Super Bowl viewership, as an average of 98.7 million viewers watched the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals. The total paled in comparison to the record for a United States TV event, which was set when an average of 105.97 million people saw the 1983 series finale of "M.A.S.H." The 27-year-old record was broken by the 2010 Super Bowl, and no Super Bowl in the last five years has gotten less than an average of 108.4 viewers.
“You’d think that the Super Bowl is going to peak and it never peaks,” Deninger said. “It just keeps rising.”
The contest’s viewership peaked between 9:45 and 10 p.m. ET, as an average of 120.8 million people watched. The halftime show, featuring Katy Perry, set a record by averaging 118.5 million viewers.
"M.A.S.H." still holds the TV record with a 60.2 rating, though Sunday's Super Bowl registered an impressive 47.5 average household rating. It's the highest rating the game has drawn since 1986, when NBC drew a 48.3 rating.