We can make all the jokes we want about how bad the Cleveland Browns are, but we want to watch.
Whether it’s a “Hard Knocks” bump, people tuning in midway through to see No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield or just the curiosity to see if the Browns could finally win a game, Thursday night was a big winner for NFL Network.
The NFL announced that the ratings for the Browns’ thrilling win over the New York Jets were the highest for NFL Network in three years. That’s juking the stats a little bit, since the NFL has shifted many Thursday night games to network television. But 8.6 million viewers is still a 41 percent bump from the seven games last season that were exclusively on NFL Network.
America loves an underdog, and who wasn’t rooting for the Browns?
Big ratings for a great game
The people who tuned in saw a fantastic game, thought it started slow.
The Browns were struggling early and trailed 14-0 late in the first half. Then Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick of the draft and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, came in.
The Browns rallied to tie it. After the Jets took a lead, Mayfield led a go-ahead drive that held up in a 21-17 win. In the final six minutes of the game, as the Browns chased their first win since Dec. 24, 2016, viewership peaked at 10.3 million viewers.
Ratings for Browns better than any college football game this season
Let’s put the numbers into some perspective. Getting 8.6 million viewers for the game, peaking at 10.3 million, for a Week 3 Thursday night game between two teams not expected to win many games this season, is huge.
Last season, the 42 live NBA playoff games on TNT averaged 4.9 million viewers. And that was the best number for the network’s NBA playoff coverage since 2011.
If you want to shift sports, Thursday night’s rating is still impressive. The highest television rating for any college football game this season was 7.2 million for Ohio State vs. TCU, according to Sports Media Watch.
People just are interested in the Browns. They’ve become a compelling team despite all the losing, and probably because of all the losing. Cleveland has a long football history, a great fan base, and hadn’t been able to win a game in almost 21 months. We like to root for great teams, but we also can easily identify with teams that can’t win no matter what.
It’s true: The Browns are the new America’s team.
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