ESPN's 'MNF' Audience Declines 9.5% during 2011 NFL Season

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ESPN concluded its sixth season of Monday Night Football with its fifth largest audience of the 2011 NFL season, but the worldwide leader saw its overall viewership decline nearly 10% from its record-setting performance last year.
ESPN averaged a 9.7 cable rating, 8.4 U.S. rating, 9.59 million households and 13.3 million viewers over 17 MNF telecasts in the 2011 season, according to Nielsen data. Those were down from a 10.5 cable mark (off 7.6%), 10.49 million households (an 8.6% decrease) and almost 14.7 million watchers (a 9.5% decline) during its fifth season with the franchise in 2010. Finishing third among its six MNF seasons since succeeding ABC with the primetime franchise, the just-completed campaign also trailed the 10.4 rating, 10.13 million households and 14.4 million viewers recorded during the 2009 season.

Despite the downturns, MNF ranked as the most-watched series on cable television, sporting 13 of the most-watched shows on the medium in calendar 2011. Additionally, ESPN ranked as the No. 1 network each Monday night this season among the coveted males 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 demos in all of TV. ESPN was also No. 1 in men 25 to 54 in 15 of 16 weeks, and first among adults 25 to 54 on 10 Mondays. Four times, ESPN won the night as the most-watched network among households and five times among viewers - cable or broadcast - in primetime on Monday.

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In six seasons on ESPN, MNF has registered eight of the top 10 all-time biggest household audiences in cable history -- only two 2011 Bowl Championship Series college football games on the network rank higher.

The season-concluding MNF telecast on Dec. 26 -- Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's all-time NFL single-season passing yardage mark in New Orleans' 45-16 pasting of NFC South rival the Atlanta Falcons -- averaged a 10.6 cable rating, 9.2 U.S. mark, 10.5 million households and 15.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. It was ESPN's fifth-largest MNF audience of the season.
However as was the case most of the season, Saints-Falcons didn't measure up to its counterpart from the prior year. In this case, the same two teams averaged 19.1 million watchers on Dec. 27, 2010, the third-largest MNF audience to date.
In addition to a number of games involving smaller market teams, ESPN's 2011 MNF slate took Nielsen hits with a bevy of non-competitive affairs. Starting with week 10 and ending with the Saints-Falcons, the closest margin of victory in the final seven MNF contests was 17 points.