ESPN’s first NFL playoff game was the network’s second-most-viewed pro football telecast ever.
The worldwide leader’s coverage of the Carolina Panthers’ 27-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday afternoon averaged a 12.3 U.S. rating, nearly 14.6 million households and 21.7 million watchers, according to Nielsen fast nationals data.
The first NFL playoff game in ESPN’s 35-year history trailed only the 21.8 million who watched Minnesota-Green Bay on Oct. 5, 2009 in Brett Favre’s first game against his old team. Carolina-Arizona now ranks as the eighth-most-viewed telecast ever for ESPN.
The only NFL games on ESPN to rate higher were Monday Night Football contests – the aforementioned Minnesota-Green Bay with a 13.2 and New Orleans-New England, which generated a 12.9 rating on Nov. 30, 2009.
The rating peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. (ET) with a 13.9 rating and at 24 million viewers in the 7 p.m. quarter hour.
The Jan. 3 Wild Card affair came two days after ESPN recorded the two-most-watched telecasts in cable history, with the sports giant’s coverage of the inaugural College Football Playoff semfinals.
The Panthers-Cardinals Wild Card game produced a WatchESPN average minute audience of 144,000, the second highest ever for an NFL game, behind only the 145,000 for the Washington-Dallas game on Oct. 27. The game also logged 378,000 unique viewers and 30.8 million total minutes viewed.
The average MNF game this season had a WatchESPN average minute audience of 106,000, 331,000 unique viewers and 21.6 million total minutes viewed – up 64%, 81% and 68%, respectively, compared to the 2013 campaign.
Top 10 Most-Viewed Programs in Cable Television History (Viewers):
CFB/Sugar Bowl: Alabama-Ohio St. ^
CFB/Rose Bowl: Oregon-Florida St. ^
CFB/BCS Champ: Oregon-Auburn
CFB/BCS Champ: Alabama-Notre Dame
CFB/BCS Champ: Florida St.-Auburn
CFB/BCS Champ: Alabama-LSU
NFL MNF: Green Bay-Minnesota
NFL Wild Card: Arizona-Carolina
NFL MNF: New England-New Orleans
CFB/Rose Bowl: TCU-Wisconsin