Steelers hit home run in ratings

Commentary

By any measure (and there were many, according the NBC Sports public relations team), the Steelers-Chiefs divisional playoff game last week was a success.

It was the most-watched primetime game on any network since last year’s Super Bowl, attracting an average of 37.1 million viewers. As the game moved toward its conclusion between 9 and 9:30 p.m., viewership peaked at 39.1 million.

It was also the most-watched NFL playoff game ever in the divisional or wild card round. That was wonderful news for broadcast partners and a league that dealt with comparatively low ratings and viewership through the first part of the season.

That changed during the second half of the season and playoffs, with potentially more to come.

It started thanks to Mother Nature and an ice storm the NFL hoped to avoid. With that, the Steelers-Chiefs game was pushed from a 1 p.m. start to more than seven hours later. As a result, “Sunday Night Football” made a fortuitous postseason debut.

It’s almost assuredly here to stay.

In Pittsburgh, which was the top TV market for the game, viewers drove a 57.1 rating, with 76 percent of TV sets tuned to the game. Kansas City was next, with a 55.2 rating and 72 percent.

Clearly the Sunday night window resonated with viewers, and you can bet the NFL’s broadcast partners will want to have the opportunity to repeat that success moving forward.

Pro Bowl plans

The latest in made-for-TV sports programming debuts Thursday (7 p.m. ESPN) when the “Pro Bowl Skills Challenge” airs a logical combination of hype and opportunity. With the Pro Bowl moving to Orlando this year, and with ESPN holding rights to the game that kicks off next Sunday, everyone involved hopes to make the most of weeklong activities.

Tuner tidbits

n While its football counterpart deservedly gets most of the attention, the college basketball version of “College GameDay” kicked off its 13th season Saturday, airing from Durham, N.C., site of Miami’s game against No. 7 Duke.

n The recent surge by the Philadelphia 76ers has prompted ESPN to update its NBA schedule, adding a Jan. 27 game with the Houston Rockets visiting the Sixers. That game takes the place of a Miami Heat-Chicago Bulls matchup that had been scheduled to air at 8 p.m. that night.

n Penn State’s top-ranked ice hockey team gets its next national TV exposure with a Feb. 4 game at Minnesota (8 p.m. BTN) but the team (and all of college ice hockey, really) has a champion in ESPN’s John Buccigross. The Pittsburgh native has a place in his heart for the sport and the fast-rising Lions.

n Legendary ESPN talent Chris Berman will reduce his schedule significantly after the NFL season ends and the potential replacement for his duties on the NFL Draft seem obvious. That’s an assignment Trey Wingo should step into easily. Berman’s other studio duties related to the NFL could fall to another existing ESPN talent, Suzy Kolber. Or, as The Sporting News reported, the all-sports network could try something different and bring in Charissa Thompson from Fox Sports 1.  Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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