ESPN's Week 1 'Monday Night Football' ratings fall 17%

Key Points
  • The "Monday Night Football" doubleheader featuring the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers attracted 10.7 million viewers.
  • The second contest between the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans drew 7.6 million viewers.

In this article

New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (87) catches a pass in front of Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Terrell Edmunds (34) and linebacker Devin Bush (55) during the first half at MetLife Stadium.
Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's first outing of the 2020 National Football League featuring the New York Giants hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers attracted an average of 10.76 million viewers on Monday night the network announced, down 17.2% from last year's first Monday night game.

Despite hosting the Steelers in a fanless MetLife Stadium, the Giants lost their opener, 26-16, in the debut of new head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The game peaked at 13.1 million viewers around 9:00 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. The top markets for the game included Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. 

The second game between the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos registered 7.6 million viewers as the Titans won, 16-14.

The viewership was down from last year's average of 13 million viewers for the first game in the "Monday Night Football" doubleheader that featured the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is sacked by Trey Hendrickson #91 of the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

But despite a 12% fall in viewership for the NFL's kickoff opener Thursday night, and declines for NBC's "Sunday Night Football" and CBS' 12% drop for regional games, Fox reported an increase in its national game.

Fox said the contest between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, featuring quarterback Tom Brady, and the Drew Brees-led Saints averaged 25.8 million viewers, an increase of 7% over last year's Week 1 national game, which averaged 24.2 million.

"Fox crushed it on a game that, yes it's [Drew Brees] and [Tom Brady] but it wasn't that close," said Dan Cohen, senior vice president of Octagon's global media rights consulting division "That speaks volumes to matchups and big names."

On the regional front, NFL games averaged 13.5 million viewers in Week 1, up 6% from last year (12.7 million) and most watched opening since 2016. Cohen said the viewership numbers proves the "[NFL] is still the lion of the jungle" despite the league's now supportive stance on social injustice issues. 

With consumption habits changing and an overload in sports content, Cohen said the competition for eyeballs has been a factor as all four major U.S. sporting leagues are on at the same time.

"I don't think the social injustice issues are even one, two, three or four of the top factors in any ratings decline," Cohen said. He added major sports league are set to overlap at least 10 times this month which could present more of a "a programming challenge."

Disclosure: NBC Sports, which shares parent NBCUniversal with CNBC, broadcasts NFL games.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct percentage decline in Week 1 viewership for "Monday Night Football" compared with 2019.

NFL viewership declines for week 1 games
NFL viewership declines for week 1 games