ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 21: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders take to the field during a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys Stadium on August 21, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Over 16 prime-time games since 2006, according to a study by the Sports Business Journal in conjunction with Nielsen Sports Data, the Cowboys have averaged 19.152 million viewers, earning them the distinction of highest-rated prime-time team in football.
This is more than 2 million more viewers than the second most-watched prime-time team, the Indianapolis Colts, putting a curious twist on the connection between winning and ratings.
Of the five top-rated teams in the league--Cowboys, Colts, Giants, Bears, Patriots--only Dallas has not reached the Super Bowl since 2006; hell, they haven't even won a playoff game. Despite winning records in each of these seasons, there is a palpable buzz surrounding teams who win in the playoffs, one that usually helps in generating interest; the Cowboys have been bereft of any such playoff-buzz since 1996.
Still, that Dallas is the top-rated team is fairly understandable, given their large, widespread fan base and hyper-visibility; but without a playoff win in more than a decade, the wide margin--nearly 2.5 million over Indianapolis--comes as mildly surprising.
The study took into account the ratings of Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football with respect to each team since 2006--the year SNF moved to NBC and MNF moved from ABC to ESPN.