NEW YORK – The New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was seen by an estimated 86.1 million people, down 4 percent from last year's game, Nielsen Media Research (search) said Monday.
The Patriots' win over the Carolina Panthers in 2004 attracted 89.8 million, Nielsen said.
Maybe winning is becoming old hat for the Patriots (search); it was, by a slim margin, the least-watched of the team's three Super Bowl victories in the past four years.
Fox isn't likely to complain. The Super Bowl (search) is routinely the most-watched television event of the year. Over the past 20 years, the game's viewership has ranged from 73.9 million (1990, San Francisco vs. Denver) to 94.1 million (1996, Dallas vs. Pittsburgh).
A competitive game helped keep fans interested. The two teams were tied entering the fourth quarter and the Patriots won by three points; Fox said viewership peaked after 10 p.m. EST Sunday, in the game's last quarter.
A Super Bowl-themed episode of "The Simpsons" drew 23.1 million viewers immediately after the game, the venerable cartoon's biggest audience in 11 years. An estimated 15.1 million people stayed up to watch the preview of another animated series, "American Dad," right after that.
The post-Super Bowl time slot is always a highly sought showcase.
Numbers for "The Simpsons" were about average for that period, falling behind the high of NBC's "Friends" in 1996 (52.9 million) and above the low of ABC's "Alias" in 2003 (17.4 million).
The Super Bowl's host city — Jacksonville — drew the highest rating of any major city, trailed by Philadelphia, Nielsen said. Boston was third.