Monday Night Football and the NFL on FOX have actually seen a slight downturn in viewers throughout the first eight weeks of the NFL season compared to last year while NBC and CBS viewership numbers have trended upwards. It isn’t as if the ratings numbers are bad — football still out-rates every other program on television — but the trend won’t help ESPN sell to advertisers as it attempts to recoup its $1.9 billion per year Monday Night Football investment. The real problem is that the rest of this season’s schedule won’t help drive people to their TV sets to make up for the lower numbers seen in the first eight weeks.
Including tonight’s Bears vs. Chargers match-up, Monday Night Football only has four games where a team playing is over .500 (Texans/Bengals, Bills/Patriots, Giants/Dolphins, and Bengals/Broncos) . In those games, only the Week 16 match-up of Bengals vs. Broncos has two major contenders. This means that MNF has a lot of opportunities for blow-outs or that the games simply don’t matter to the casual fan because no one is involved in the playoff picture.
This is bad news for ESPN because it relies on previous year’s ratings to sell to advertisers. ESPN doesn’t have the benefit of flexing games like Sunday Night Football on NBC, and pumping up a Browns vs. Ravens game just isn’t going to be easy this year. The most compelling story-line for fans is two winning teams battling against each other in prime-time. Lions vs. Saints in Week 15 just doesn’t have that draw.
Unfortunately for ESPN this year’s MNF slate just hasn’t panned out, and it will be tough to repeat previous years’ viewership success.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.