As far back as 1869, football has been played on Thanksgiving, and the National Football League has taken full advantage of the fact that Americans across the country are gathered together and will plop down in front of the television before, after and in between courses. Sure, your uncle and cousins might be getting into an argument over politics, but football always offers a nice respite from the chaos.
One need only look at the ratings for the NFL’s Thanksgiving games to get a good idea of how important the holiday is to the league. It is, by far, the NFL’s best day for ratings, outside of the Super Bowl and the playoffs. Week to week, most games average 10 to 20 million viewers each, but the games on Thanksgiving see the ratings spike close to 30 million people. In fact, sometimes they go well over that benchmark; the Cowboys-Redskins matchup in 2016 had over 35 million viewers.
In 2017 the ratings dropped by a small margin, thanks in no small part to the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem as well as the fact that the games just weren’t very good. According to Ad Age, the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys had an audience of 26 million. By comparison, 2016’s highest-rated contest between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins drew a viewership of over 35 million. Even with the drop in ratings, the ad revenue the NFL receives from sponsors is substantial. With Thanksgiving serving as the perfect excuse to sit is in front of a TV, the league will continue to remain heavily invested in the holiday.