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ESPN posts record Monday Night Football ratings as Roku creates dedicated NFL experience

NFL return sees solid TV ratings as league looks to simplify streaming fragmentation.

13 Sep 2023 Steve McCaskill
Zach Wilson New York Jets NFL

Getty Images

  • ESPN, NBC and CBS post audience increases in week one
  • Roku NFL Zone will act as a central hub for streaming

Aaron Rodgers’ nightmare debut as quarterback for the National Football League’s (NFL) New York Jets against the Buffalo Bills attracted 22.6 million viewers in the US, making it the most-watched edition of ESPN’s Monday Night Football (MNF) ever.

The figures include viewership across Disney’s portfolio of free-to-air (FTA), pay-TV, and streaming services, including ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+, as well as the NFL+ streaming service.

The record audience peaked at 25.2 million late in the second quarter when the Bills took a 10-3 lead over the Jets.

The previous record was 21.8 million when another former long-serving Green Bay quarterback, Brett Favre, suited up for the Minnesota Vikings against the Packers in 2009. 

The figures mark a 14 per cent increase from the 19.8 million who tuned into the 2022 MNF opener between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. This was the previous record for a week one MNF matchup.

The ratings rounded up a strong return for the NFL, whose domestic broadcast deals with Amazon, CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and YouTube TV are worth more than US$110 billion over ten years.

NBC averaged 27.5 million viewers for the season-opening game between the defending Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions on Thursday, which was also the second most-streamed NFL game on Peacock ever.

The broadcaster then averaged 21.8 million viewers for the Dallas Cowboys’ blowout 40-0 victory over the New York Giants in the traditional Sunday Night Football slot, making it the most viewed two-game season opening weekend for NBC since 2015 with an average audience of 25 million.

Meanwhile, CBS secured 21.35 million viewers for its national game window – a year-on-year increase helped by coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles versus the New England Patriots. Fox secured 16.3 million viewers in its national window.

While linear broadcasts still deliver massive audiences for the NFL, streaming is an increasingly important route to market for the league. NBC and CBS’ coverage is available on their respective direct-to-consumer (DTC) platforms, Amazon Prime is the exclusive broadcaster of Thursday Night Football, while YouTube TV is the new home of Sunday Ticket.

Peacock and ESPN+ will have exclusive games, while many households now access ESPN via multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) services like Fubo and YouTube TV, the latter of which is also the new home of Sunday Ticket.

To help cord cutters navigate this fragmented viewing landscape, the NFL has partnered with Roku to create the ‘NFL Zone’, an extension of the connected television platform’s dedicated sports experience.

NFL Zone acts as a centralised location for live and upcoming games, giving users easy access provided they have the right subscription. Roku supports major streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, DTC offerings from major broadcasters, NFL+, and the most popular MVPD platforms. 

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