What a difference five years makes.
During the 2018 NFL season, ESPN TV rookie Jason Witten was Twitter’s favorite punching bag for his stumbling, robotic performance on “Monday Night Football.”
Today, ESPN’s MNF is surging again as a primetime property. With Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, and Lisa Salters on the main call – and Peyton and Eli Manning on the “ManningCast” – ESPN boasts the best broadcast booth among the NFL’s TV partners, not the worst.
ESPN’s coverage of the Denver Broncos’ last-second win over the Buffalo Bills Monday night averaged 17.7 million viewers, up 38% from the comparable game last season. Season-to-date, MNF is averaging 15.6 million viewers, up 16% over last season, and the best since ESPN took over the package from ABC Sports in 2006.
Heading into Week 10, MNF had reached 101 million viewers vs. 89 million last season through the same span.
It’s all pointing toward a big potential second half for MNF, which will offer a Super Bowl rematch between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night and a season-ending clash between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions on Dec. 30.
Several factors are driving MNF’s primetime growth. In their second season on ESPN, Aikman-Buck-Salters are in top form. Chairman Jimmy Pitaro has secured a much more competitive game schedule from the league. Eight games have been simulcasted on the Walt Disney Co.’s ABC broadcast network. The ManningCast’s five episodes have contributed 1.2 million average viewers toward the overall total.
ESPN is not alone. The NFL TV’s partners are ringing up some of their best midseason TV numbers in years.
- Through Week 10, NBC Sports’ “Sunday Night Football” averaged 21.5 million viewers, an increase of 7% from last season and the best through Week 10 since 2015. SNF has ranked as TV’s No. 1 primetime show for a record 12 straight seasons.
- Through Week 10, CBS Sports has enjoyed its most-watched NFL season in eight years. The Tiffany network’s games have averaged nearly 18 million viewers. Season-to-date through Week 10, Fox Sports averaged 17,531,000 viewers, down 3% compared to last season.
- In its second season of exclusively streaming “Thursday Night Football,” Amazon Prime Video averaged 12.20 million viewers through Week 9, up 27% vs. last year’s nine-game average. Amazon is again drawing a younger audience than the league’s linear TV partners. The average age of TNF viewers is 48 years old compared to 55 for linear TV networks.
- Overall, NFL games averaged 17.2 million viewers through Week 9. That was up 7% from the same point last season. And the highest viewership average through Week 9 since the league’s 2015 season.
- The league’s four International Series games averaged 6.1 million viewers across TV and digital, up 13% from last season’s three-game average.
How’s this for TV dominance?
Since the 2023 regular season kickoff, NFL games have been the Top 48 most-watched show on television.