ESPN kicked off the 40th season of Monday Night Football in a big way on Sept. 14.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of their American Football League forbears, the twinbill's opener, matching the Buffalo Bills against the New England Patriots, scored cable's biggest audience of 2009 to date, while the nightcap, pitting the San Diego Chargers versus the Oakland Raiders, tackled the medium's second-largest live audience and third biggest overall.
The Pats' 25-24 comeback win, featuring the return of 2007 NFL MVP Tom Brady, who threw a pair of touchdowns in the last two minutes, averaged a 10.3 household rating, 10.2 million homes and just over 14 million viewers during its 7 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. window, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That's tops for cable thus far in 2009.
At 10:15 p.m., the Chargers' 24-20 win over the Raiders -- the contest was also settled with a last-minute scoring drive -- recorded an 8.9 rating, 8.77 million households and 11.9 million viewers.
That marked the second-largest live audience on cable in 2009, beating the Aug. 28 debut of Disney Channel telefilm Wizards of Waverly Place The Movie, which conjured 11.7 million watchers on a live + same day data. (11.4 million in its initial airing).
However, gauged on a live + 7-day basis, the original movie picked up another 1.8 million watchers to finish with 13.5 million. It's unlikely San Diego-Oakland would surpass that total given viewers' proclivity to watch sports live.
The two MNF games combined for ESPN's highest-rated and most-viewed season-opening doubleheader since it kicked off the format in 2006, according to network officials. ESPN's two games averaged a 9.6 household rating, 9.49 million households and over 12.9 million watchers.
Those totals represented gains of 15%, 16% and 16%, respectively, against last year's opening pair of Minnesota-Green Bay, which pulled a 9.3 rating, 9.05 million homes and 12.5 million viewers and Denver-Oakland's 7.3, 7.15 million homes and 9.67 million watchers. Key demos were also up across the board from 2008, according to network officials.
The contests also played well on Spanish-language service ESPN Deportes, with both games delivering higher ratings than any of its MNF telecasts during the 2008 season. The Chargers-Raiders delivered a 1.4 Hispanic rating and 65,000 Hispanic households, while the Bills-Patriots opener received a 0.9 Hispanic rating and 40,000 Hispanic households.
The Sept. 15, 2008 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, highlighting the NFL's Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, notched the previous top Hispanic rating, with a 0.8.
That game marked the largest live audience in cable history, averaging some 18.6 million watchers on ESPN. However, when live + 7-day figures were calculated Disney Channel's High School Musical 2 edged the game by 2000 watchers, behind a 1.4 million-viewer jump in DVR viewing.