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Local TV ratings drop for Steelers, yet popularity remains high

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 2:45 p.m.
There were thousands of empty seats during the first quarter Sunday at Heinz Field when the Steelers battled the Bengals.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
There were thousands of empty seats during the first quarter Sunday at Heinz Field when the Steelers battled the Bengals.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drops back to throw againt the Browns on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drops back to throw againt the Browns on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Their losses are up and their TV ratings are down the past two seasons, yet the Steelers remain one of the NFL's most popular TV attractions.

Despite their 0-4 start and a second 8-8 record in as many seasons, the Steelers' average Nielsen rating of 38.2 in the Pittsburgh market was No. 6 overall in the NFL — ahead of teams such as conference finalists New England and San Francisco.

According to Sports Business Journal's annual compilation of local market NFL ratings, the Falcons (down 22 percent), and Steelers and Rams (down 14 percent each) had the biggest falloffs this season. The Giants (minus-13 percent) and Texans (minus-12 percent) also had double-digit drops.

But the Steelers' fan base remains so strong that they still draw large audiences even during non-playoff seasons. They were 12-4 during three of the previous four seasons prior to 2012.

The Steelers' average rating has fallen from 45.6 (No. 3 overall) in 2011 to 44.1 (No. 3 overall) in 2012 to 38.2 this season, but their ratings are nearly four times those of the Raiders (a league-low 10.9).

The Steelers also are the biggest TV draw in the AFC North; the Ravens are No. 9 (33.9), the Bengals (33.3) are No. 10 and the Browns (29.0) are No. 14. The AFC North's TV ratings are the best of the NFL's eight divisions.

The Saints easily led the NFL for the second time in three seasons, drawing a 52.0 average rating. Denver was second at 43.5, up from 37.2 in 2012, while the Packers and Chiefs were tied for third at 42.9. The Chiefs' ratings climbed a league-best 41 percent.

Ten teams, including the Steelers, have seen double-digit ratings drops each of the last two seasons. Still, they do not experience the wild fluctuations that many teams do depending on their records.

Nationally, NFL games represented 34 of the 35 most-watched shows during the fall ratings season, according to the league. Over the past decade, NFL TV audiences on broadcast television have increased 31 percent, from 15.5 million in 2003 to 20.3 million in 2013.

The Steelers were involved in four of the NFL's highest-rated regular season games this season — No. 21 (Ravens, Oct. 20, 25.3 million), No. 26 (Patriots, Nov. 3, 24 million), No. 30 (Ravens, Nov. 28, 21.1 million) and No. 34 (Bears, Sept. 22, 20.5 million).

The 49ers-Packers frigid-weather playoff game Jan. 5 drew 47.1 million viewers, the most-watched broadcast since last season's Super Bowl and easily the most-watched wild-card game in league history, topping the 42.4 million for Steelers-Broncos during the 2011 season.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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