National Football League Kickoff game

National Football League Kickoff game
The logo for the 2002 concert event before the Kickoff Game

The NFL Kickoff game, and related festivities, mark the start of the National Football League season. The first game of the season is currently scheduled for the Thursday following Labor Day. A single game is held, preceded by a concert and other ceremonies. Since the 2004 season, the defending Super Bowl champion has hosted the showcased Kickoff game. The remainder of the league plays their opening weekend games the following Sunday and Monday. The pregame concert and game is televised live on NBC.



The Kickoff Game was introduced in the 2002 season, under the leadership of then-NFL marketing executive John Collins. It was conceived as an effort to boost economic recovery in the New York and Washington areas in the wake of 9/11. It was considered a success, increasing NFL sponsorships by $1.9 billion over the next 14 months.[1] ESPN televised the first game. In order to do so, ESPN eliminated its traditional late-October Thursday night game (held the weekend of Games 1 and 2 of the World Series), and replaced it with the opening night kickoff game.

The concept of the NFL champion playing in an opening game was not altogether new, however. From 1934 to 1976, the first game of the season was the Chicago All-Star Game, an exhibition match featuring the previous season's NFL champions against an all-rookie team of college all-stars held annually in Soldier Field in Chicago. The game was eventually canceled after the games had become lopsided in favor of the NFL.

Prior to the introduction of the Kickoff Game, it was not uncommon for the defending Super Bowl champion to host or participate in the opening weekend Monday Night Football "showcase" game. This was the case in 1978–1979, 1983, 1987–1988, 1990–1993, 1996–2000, and 2002–2003.

Defending Super Bowl champions are 8–0 in the Kickoff Game. Only one home team has lost in the Kickoff Game, that being the Giants in the very first edition of the contest, when the defending Super Bowl winner was not yet a regular participant.

Selected details

2003: The game's popularity and success saw it move to ABC as part of the Monday Night Football package. In order for the kickoff game to fit into the schedule, ABC dropped the Monday Night Football game held in the last week of the NFL season, which had become increasingly unpopular because it often lacked playoff significance (and also the possibility that a team playing on Monday night in week 17 might have to play a playoff game the following Saturday was not desired). In return, ESPN (which is owned by ABC) received a week 17 Saturday night game. While defending Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay were not selected for the Thursday night game, they did play a nationally-televised game at Philadelphia four nights later on MNF.

2004: The tradition began that the kickoff game would be hosted by the defending Super Bowl champions. After the "wardrobe malfunction" incident at Super Bowl XXXVIII, the NFL initially canceled future plans for concerts in conjunction with the NFL Kickoff game.[2] Later in the year, however, the decision was reversed, and instead a 10-second broadcast delay was put in place.[3]

2006: With the change in television contracts, the Kickoff Game was moved to NBC, who held the rights to Sunday Night Football. The game opposite the first weekend of World Series games was once again removed to compensate. (The Monday night game at the end of the season, however, was not revived. Instead, after an impromptu experiment in 2005, a Monday night doubleheader was scheduled for the same weekend as the kickoff game.)

2008: The league and NBC agreed to move up the opening kickoff of the kickoff game, to 7:00 p.m., in order that John McCain could address the nation during the Republican National Convention without having to compete with the game. That game featured the Redskins and Giants. The game was also be the first to be carried by Internet television in the United States, as did all Sunday Night Football games in the 2008 season.[4]

2010: The Saints, winners of Super Bowl XLIV, hosted the kickoff game at the Superdome against the Vikings, a rematch of the previous season's NFC Championship Game. There was consideration of a match-up against the Steelers (to create a contest between the last two Super Bowl champions) but it did not come to fruition due to various logistical reasons.[5]

2011: The Packers hosted the 2011 Kickoff Game after winning Super Bowl XLV. They defeated the New Orleans Saints, a match-up of the winners of the two previous Super Bowls, the first time this has occurred. The Saints are only the second team to have played in two consecutive kickoff games, and the first to do so not by winning two consecutive Super Bowls. In the third quarter, the Packers' Randall Cobb returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, tying the NFL record for the longest such return.


Season Date Visitors Score Home Score Location Network
2002* September 5 San Francisco 49ers 16 New York Giants 13 Giants Stadium ESPN
2003* September 4 New York Jets 13 Washington Redskins 16 FedEx Field ABC
2004 September 9 Indianapolis Colts 24 New England Patriots 27 Gillette Stadium ABC
2005 September 8 Oakland Raiders 20 New England Patriots 30 Gillette Stadium ABC
2006 September 7 Miami Dolphins 17 Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Heinz Field NBC
2007 September 6 New Orleans Saints 10 Indianapolis Colts 41 RCA Dome NBC
2008 September 4 Washington Redskins 7 New York Giants 16 Giants Stadium NBC
2009 September 10 Tennessee Titans 10^ Pittsburgh Steelers 13^ Heinz Field NBC
2010 September 9 Minnesota Vikings 9 New Orleans Saints 14 Louisiana Superdome NBC
2011** September 8 New Orleans Saints 34 Green Bay Packers 42 Lambeau Field NBC

Winning team and score labeled in bold.

* – Game was not hosted by the Defending Super Bowl champions
** – Game played between last 2 Super Bowl Winners
^ – Overtime result


Team GP W L T Pct. PF PA
New England Patriots 2 2 0 0 1.000 57 44
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 2 0 0 1.000 41 27
San Francisco 49ers 1 1 0 0 1.000 16 13
Green Bay Packers 1 1 0 0 1.000 42 34
Indianapolis Colts 2 1 1 0 .500 65 37
New York Giants 2 1 1 0 .500 29 23
Washington Redskins 2 1 1 0 .500 16 13
New Orleans Saints 3 1 2 0 .333 58 92
Miami Dolphins 1 0 1 0 .000 17 28
Minnesota Vikings 1 0 1 0 .000 9 14
New York Jets 1 0 1 0 .000 13 16
Oakland Raiders 1 0 1 0 .000 20 30
Tennessee Titans 1 0 1 0 .000 10 13

Pre-game concerts

Britney Spears performs on the National Mall in Washington, DC, September 4, 2003
  • 2002: "NFL Kickoff Live from Times Square" started at 4:30 p.m. and led up to kickoff of the game at the Meadowlands. The concert was headlined by Bon Jovi (who also performed at halftime), and also featured Enrique Iglesias, Eve and Alicia Keys. The event included recognition and support of New York City's 9/11 memorial events.
  • 2003: The event moved to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and was billed as "NFL Kickoff Live From The National Mall Presented By Pepsi Vanilla." Britney Spears, who was introduced by Air Force Staff Sergeant Richard W. Duken II from Leesville LA, stationed at Tinker AFB, Aerosmith and Mary J. Blige headlined the concert. The activities started at 6 p.m. and featured a tribute to troops active in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was attended by thousands of American military personnel. ABC televised the concert live from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. eastern. Aretha Franklin concluded the concert by singing the national anthem from the National Mall leading up to kickoff.
  • 2008: Keith Urban and Usher were the featured performers at an afternoon concert at Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan in New York City on September 4. The concert was officially called "NFL Opening Kickoff 2008 Presented by EA Sports." Media coverage included NFL Network,, and streaming on Sprint-branded mobile phones. NBC intercut portions of the concert into a broadcast of their 2008–09 season fall preview show the next night, September 5 at 9 pm ET/PT, 8 pm CT. (Unlike in past years, there was no live broadcast on NBC because of the early kickoff and later coverage of the 2008 Republican National Convention.)[7]

Television ratings

Year Network Rating/share Viewers Ref.
2002 ESPN 7.6/14
9.4 (cable)
10.799 million [15]
2003 ABC 12.9/22 19.150 million [15]
2004 ABC 11.4/20 16.879 million [15]
2005 ABC 11.7/21 18.006 million [15]
2006 NBC 12.6/21 19.196 million [15]
2007 NBC 13.0 (overnight)
11.5/20 (finals)
17.791 million [15][16][17]
2008 NBC 7.5/12 (fast national)
8.6/15 (finals)
13.531 million [15][17][18]
2009 NBC 10.9/18 (fast national)
12.8/22 (finals)
20.909 million [15][17][19][20]
2010 NBC 17.7 (overnight)
16.5/28 (finals)
27.485 million [16][17][21]
2011 NBC 17.2 (overnight)
16.0 (finals)
27.170 million [22][23][24]


  1. ^ Bloomberg: "NHL Borrows From NFL as It Pursues Bigger TV Contract"
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sunday Night Football to be streamed LIVE. 28 July 2008.
  5. ^ Bouchette, Ed (March 19, 2010). "Rooney: Steelers won't open in New Orleans". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  6. ^ "Thousands pack Downtown to start NFL in style". 2007-09-07. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  7. ^ National Football League (2008-08-12). "Keith Urban and Usher to headline NFL's Kickoff celebration from NYC". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Party in the works for NFL Kickoff at Lambeau Field". 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  11. ^ "NFL Kickoff concert preps underway". WLUK. 2011-08-31. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  12. ^ Hiestand, Michael (2011-09-07). "Obama speech shifts NBC NFL pregame". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  13. ^ "'NFL Kickoff 2011 presented by EA Sports' to celebrate Packers". 2011-08-30. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  14. ^ "NFL legends participating in pregame". Fox 11. 2011-09-07. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h "Titans/Steelers scores touchdown for NBC". SportsMediaWatch. 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  16. ^ a b "Vikings/Saints Earns Kickoff Record 17.7 Overnight; 60.0 In New Orleans". Sports Media Watch. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  17. ^ a b c d "Multiple Viewership Records For Vikings/Saints; Game Scores Over 27 Million". Sports Media Watch. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "TV ratings: 'Vampire Diaries' has a bloody good premiere; NFL kickoff also strong". 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  20. ^ "Sunday 4pm NFL Games TV Ratings Often Bigger Than NFL Primetime". 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  21. ^ "Updated TV Ratings: ‘NFL Kickoff’ Soars ; ‘Vampire Diaries’ Falls; ‘Nikita’ Equals ‘Supernatural’". 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  22. ^ "Saints/Packers Opener Down, Still Second-Best Kickoff Game". 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Despite Decline, NFL Opener a Success For NBC". 2011-09-10. Retrieved 2011-09-12. 

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