With a major sendoff from the Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings game on Dec. 28, the 40th season of Monday Night Football, the fourth on ESPN, was the cable network's best to date.
For its 17 telecasts, ESPN averaged a 10.4 cable rating, 10.3 million households and just under 14.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, making it the sports behemoth's highest-rated and most-watched MNF season since the franchise moved to cable in 2006.
Measured against the 2008 season, MNF recorded gains of 17%, 19% and 20%, versus averages of 8.9, 8.68 million households and 11.96 million viewers, respectively.
During its rookie season with MNF in 2006, ESPN averaged a 9.9 rating, 9.1 million households and 12.3 million viewers, while the 2007 season generated an 8.6, 8.28 million households and 11.2 million watchers.
The Bears' 36-30 upset of the Brett Favre's Vikings on Dec. 28 tackled a 12.0 cable rating and just over 17 million cable viewers.
The contest was ESPN's third-highest MNF telecast this season and fifth overall behind the 21.8 million for Minnesota-Green Bay on Oct. 5, the 21.4 million for New Orleans-New England, the 18.6 million for Philadelphia-Dallas on Sept. 15, 2008 and the 17.5 million for New England-Baltimore on Dec. 3, 2007.
ESPN officials said the Dec. 28 game ranks as cable's fifth-largest household audience of all-time and sixth among viewers on a live + same-day basis (the Aug. 17, 2007 premiere of Disney Channel's High School Musical 2 garnered 17.2 million watchers, 18.639 million on a live + seven-day basis).
MNF led all the night's programs -- broadcast or cable -- among households, viewers and all key male and adult demos, making ESPN the top network for the night in all categories. It was the sixth time MNF won the night for total viewers among all networks this season, according to ESPN officials.