Not only did the New Orleans Saints win their first Super Bowl last night, they apparently also helped break a record that many thought would stand forever:
NEW YORK – The New Orleans Saints’ victory over Indianapolis in the Super Bowl was watched by more than 106 million people, surpassing the 1983 finale of “M-A-S-H” to become the most-watched program in U.S. television history, the Nielsen Co. said Monday.
Compelling story lines involving the city of New Orleans and its ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the attempt at a second Super Bowl ring for Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning propelled the viewership. Football ratings have been strong all season.
“It was one of those magical moments that you don’t often see in sports,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports.
Nielsen estimated Monday that 106.5 million people watched Sunday’s Super Bowl. The “M-A-S-H” record was 105.97 million.
The viewership estimate obliterated the previous record viewership for a Super Bowl — last year’s game between Arizona and Pittsburgh. That game was seen by 98.7 million people, Nielsen said.
The “M-A-S-H” record has proven as durable and meaningful in television as Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs was in baseball until topped by Hank Aaron. Ultimately, it may be hard to tell which program was really watched by more people. There’s a margin for error in such numbers, and Nielsen’s Monday estimate was preliminary, and could change with a more thorough look at data due Tuesday.
Even if the record stands, however, the M*A*S*H numbers do win out in one respect:
There are more American homes with television sets now (114.9 million) than there were in 1983 (83.3 million). An estimated 77 percent of homes with TVs on were watching “M-A-S-H” in 1983, compared with the audience share of 68 for the Super Bowl.
And the Saints and Colts did have some help from Mother Nature:
The Mid-Atlantic blizzard also helped CBS. After New Orleans, the highest-rated market was snowbound Washington, Nielsen said. More people watched the game from their homes in that area instead of going to parties or bars, and Nielsen does a much better job counting viewers in homes than outside of them. “Bad weather in the Northeast and good weather in Florida was a good combination for us,” McManus said.
H/T: James Joyner