Monday Night Football kicked off on cable in record-breaking ratings fashion.
ESPN, which is paying the National Football League $1.1 billion per year in rights fees for the franchise formerly held by broadcast brother ABC, attracted 12.6 million viewers, the most in the total sports network’s 27 years, and the second-most in cable history. With an average of 9.18 million households tuning in from 7 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 11, the Minnesota Vikings’ 19-16 victory over the Washington Redskins — in the first of two games that night — trailed only the 11.2 million households that watched a November 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement debate between then-Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot on CNN, according to ESPN officials.
ESPN’s previous record: The 8.93 million households that watched the Detroit Lions visit the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day 1994.
The second game of ESPN’s Sept. 11 NFL doubleheader, the San Diego Chargers’ 27-0 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders at 10:15 p.m. (ET), tackled an average of 7.87 million households and 10.5 million viewers.
The Vikings/Redskins contest averaged a 9.9 household cable rating, while Chargers/Raiders notched an 8.5.
During what will be its usual MNF time slot of 8:30 p.m. to 11:45 p.m., ESPN averaged an 11.3 rating, with an 11.4 rating for 8-11 p.m., the highest of any broadcast or cable network in primetime that day. Last season, ESPN averaged a 7.1 cable rating, including a 9.1 mark for its opening contest on Sunday Night Football.
Last season’s MNF opener on ABC — which reaches 110 million households, versus 90 million or so for ESPN — garnered 19.6 million viewers, 36% more than the cable network averaged with Vikings-Redskins.
Adding in the pre- and post-game shows, ESPN delivered 24.6 gross ratings points on Sept. 10, while NFL content on ESPN.com, including “Monday Night Surround,” generated more than 36 million page views that day, up from 25 million on the first Monday night of the 2005 NFL season, according to HitBox.
For its part, NBC, which has taken over ESPN’s former Sunday night NFL slot, pulled in 22.6 million viewers for a Sept. 10 matchup of the brothers Manning — Peyton of the Indianapolis Colts topped the New York Giants’ Eli by 26-21 — the highest number of watchers for an NFL primetime opener since the first MNF game in 2000.
NBC, which returned to pro pigskin coverage on Sept. 7 after an eight-year absence, brought home 19.6 million viewers to its coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers triumph over the Miami Dolphins that night.