Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre's sterling performance against his former club, the Green Bay Packers, set the stage for ESPN to record the most-watched show in cable history.
Minnesota's 30-23 triumph over the Pack last night averaged a 15.3 rating, 15.1 million households and 21.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. That's the most viewers and greatest number of households for a single telecast in cable history, according to ESPN officials.
The 15.3 rating is also the tops for ESPN, breaking the 14.4 mark the sports programmer scored with its Dec. 6, 1987 presentation of Vikings-Chicago Bears, during its first season televising National Football League games.
The Oct. 5 telecast shattered the previous MNF record under ESPN's watch: the Sept. 15, 2008 contest between the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles, which tackled 18.6 million viewers.
MNF now accounts for three of the top four most-watched shows in cable history. When adding in live + seven-day viewing, the Aug. 17, 2007 premiere of Disney Channel telepic High School Musical 2 edged out the Cowboys-Eagles game for second-place. The Dec. 3, 2007 game between the Baltimore Ravens and the then-undefeated New England Patriots ranks fourth with 17.5 million watchers. A debate about the North American Free Trade Agreement between then-Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot that aired on CNN's Larry King Live on Nov. 9, 1993 places fifth with 16.8 million viewers.
Since acquiring the rights to MNF in 2006, ESPN has now set the cable household viewership record four times in as many years. All told, cable's five biggest household audiences ever -- and eight of the top 10 -- excluding breaking news are ESPN's MNF telecasts.
For its five MNF telecasts thus far during the 2009 season, ESPN averaged an 11.4 rating, 11.3 million households and nearly 15.7 million watchers on average, gains of 19%, 21% and 24%, respectively, from this point in the 2008 campaign.
Not surprisingly, the Minnesota-Green Bay game --in which the star quarterback, who will celebrate his 40th birthday on Oct. 10, threw for three touchdowns and 271yards, while teammate defensive end Jared Allen set a MNF record with 4.5 sacks, including a safety against Favre's protégé Aaron Rodgers -- played huge in the clubs' home markets. The game delivered a combined 58.3 rating in Minneapolis (17.5 on ESPN, 40.8 on KTSP-ABC) and a 49.7 mark in Milwaukee (13.6 on ESPN, 36.0 on WISN-ABC), according to Nielsen.
MNF has scored as the No. 1 primetime program against households, viewers and all key male and adult demos the past two weeks, helping ESPN win the nights in all demographic audience categories among all networks, broadcast or cable.
On ESPN.com, there were more than 110 million page views to NFL content, accessed via computers and mobile devices, for Monday through Tuesday at noon -- a 47% surge from the comparable time period last year. Specifically, page views for the NFL section on computers and mobile grew 44% from last year. Additionally, ESPN.com streamed 3.7 million NFL-related videos.
"Last night's record-setting performance clearly demonstrates that big events on ESPN deliver big audiences with content across all our platforms," said ESPN president George Bodenheimer in a statement. "In its 40th season, Monday Night Football remains a special place to showcase the NFL's best."