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The network said Thursday’s game between the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans peaked at 22 million viewers around 9:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Eastern. The Chiefs beat the Texans, 34-20, at Arrowhead Stadium in front of a crowd of roughly 17,000 spectators.
According to the network, the game is only the second sporting event since the Super Bowl in February to record at least 20 million viewers. The Academy Awards on Feb. 9 drew 23.6 million viewers.
Despite the surpassing 20 million viewers during its peak, ratings declined more than 12% from 2019. Last year’s opener between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers averaged 22 million viewers and peaked at 23.9 million viewers.
The NFL did have competition on the night, as Covid-19 forced other leagues, including the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, to broadcast playoff games during the NFL’s opener. Other leagues hosting games Thursday included Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and tennis’ U.S. Open.
The NFL also took its stance of social injustice causes, which may have played a part in the ratings decline. The game opened to players and staff from each team locking arms to show unity following months of social unrest following the killings of Black people by police officers, including the May 25 killing of George Floyd.
The top five markets for the game outside of the two team cities included Denver, Austin, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia, according to NBC, which used data from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics.
NBC will host a second season-opener on Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams host the Dallas Cowboys at the new $5 billion SoFi Stadium.
Disclosure: NBC and NBC Sports are owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.