ABC Sports' telecast of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday for the NFL title registered a preliminary big-market rating of 43.8 — 3 percent higher than last year and the best since 1998.
That means an average of 43.8 percent of the country's TV homes were watching at any given moment.
The Super Bowl is often the most-watched TV program each year, and nine of the 15 highest-rated shows in history are NFL championships.
Preliminary, or overnight, ratings measure the country's 55 largest TV markets, covering nearly 70 percent of the United States. National ratings were expected later Monday.
In 2002, the New England Patriots' 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams on a final-play field goal had a 42.5 overnight rating on Fox. The final national rating of 40.4 tied for the fourth-lowest for a Super Bowl since 1972.
The 1998 overnight rating was 44.4 for NBC's telecast of Denver's 31-24 victory over Green Bay.
Viewership was consistently high throughout ABC's broadcast Sunday, starting with a 41.7 for the first half hour, which rose to a 44.5 by the end of the second quarter. Even halftime was a popular show, with a 43.4 rating from 8-8:30 p.m. EST.
The audience — which advertisers paid ABC an average of just over $2 million per 30-second commercial to reach — dipped from 9-9:30 p.m. EST, during which time Tampa Bay enjoyed its biggest lead, 34-3.
It was in that segment that officials reviewed a ruling that negated a possible touchdown by the Raiders with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter.
As ABC's broadcasters discussed whether the touchdown should have counted, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said with a laugh to analyst John Madden: "Anything to hold an audience at this point."
With about six minutes remaining in the game, Oakland wideout Jerry Rice's touchdown cut his team's deficit to 34-21, prompting Michaels to say, hope in his voice: ``Well, for what it's worth, at least the Raiders are CLEARLY back in the game.''
Indeed, Oakland's mini-rally probably helped bring viewers back to the game. The rating rose a bit from 9:30-10 p.m., and hit its peak for the final 15 minutes, from 10-10:15 p.m., with 46.1 of the country tuning in.
"There was a significant interest in the game: the matchups, the coaching story with Jon Gruden," said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now a consultant. ``And the game kind of rescued itself late in the third quarter, when Oakland scored a couple of touchdowns. We were headed for a real blowout.''
The record rating for a Super Bowl is the 49.1 that CBS got for San Francisco's 26-21 victory over Cincinnati in 1982.
The good ratings for this year's Super Bowl will benefit next year's broadcaster, CBS, which will sell its ad time based largely on how many viewers were reached this time.
"The biggest benefactor is CBS," Pilson said. "ABC doesn't get a single nickel more or less."