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Data: Nielsen; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most important 30-day stretch of the year for the television industry begins this weekend on the gridiron.

Why it matters: The 14 most-watched U.S. TV broadcasts of 2021 could take place over the next month: 13 NFL playoff games (up from 11 due to expansion) and Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship.

By the numbers: The NFL delivered 71 of last year's 100 biggest TV audiences, including 11 of the top 15, while the CFP National Championship ranked 18th.

  • The only 2020 broadcasts that rivaled the NFL postseason or the CFP title game were both presidential debates, the vice presidential debate and the State of the Union.

The state of play: Without a presidential election in 2021, football will be even more important to networks like Fox, ESPN, NBC and CBS, which will air the year's biggest broadcast: Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.

The big picture: The TV ecosystem is like a huge game of Jenga, and the last piece holding up the whole thing is live sports. It's one of the only things that still moves the needle.

  • "The same can no longer be said for scripted programming, which continues to lose ground to the capriciousness of a commercial-avoiding audience," writes Sportico's Anthony Crupi.
  • The most-watched episode of scripted TV last year was the March 31 installment of CBS' "NCIS." It ranked No. 102 on the list, making 2020 the first year in which a single drama or comedy failed to crack the top 100.

The bottom line: Football is king.

Go deeper

Jan 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

Biden inauguration TV ratings top Trump's

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's swearing in and inaugural address drew nearly 40 million viewers, beating Trump's 38.35 million viewers in 2017, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen.

Details: CNN led the main cable and broadcast networks, followed by ABC, MSNBC, NBC and CBS. Fox News, which led ratings during almost every major presidential event in 2020, finished last.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
23 mins ago - Economy & Business

Scoop: Red Sox strike out on deal to go public

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. has ended talks to sell a minority ownership stake to RedBall Acquisition, a SPAC formed by longtime baseball executive Billy Beane and investor Gerry Cardinale, Axios has learned from multiple sources. An alternative investment, structured more like private equity, remains possible.

Why it matters: Red Sox fans won't be able to buy stock in the team any time soon.