ESPN's 'MNF' Audience Declines 9.5% during 2011 NFL Season12/28/2011 10:41 PM Eastern
ESPN concluded its sixth season of Monday Night Football with its fifth largest audience of the 2011 NFL season, but the worldwide leader saw its overall viewership decline nearly 10% from its record-setting performance last year.
ESPN averaged a 9.7 cable rating, 8.4 U.S. rating, 9.59 million households and 13.3 million viewers over 17 MNF telecasts in the 2011 season, according to Nielsen data. Those were down from a 10.5 cable mark (off 7.6%), 10.49 million households (an 8.6% decrease) and almost 14.7 million watchers (a 9.5% decline) during its fifth season with the franchise in 2010. Finishing third among its six MNF seasons since succeeding ABC with the primetime franchise, the just-completed campaign also trailed the 10.4 rating, 10.13 million households and 14.4 million viewers recorded during the 2009 season.
In six seasons on ESPN, MNF has registered eight of the top 10 all-time biggest household audiences in cable history -- only two 2011 Bowl Championship Series college football games on the network rank higher.
The season-concluding MNF telecast on Dec. 26 -- Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's all-time NFL single-season passing yardage mark in New Orleans' 45-16 pasting of NFC South rival the Atlanta Falcons -- averaged a 10.6 cable rating, 9.2 U.S. mark, 10.5 million households and 15.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. It was ESPN's fifth-largest MNF audience of the season.
However as was the case most of the season, Saints-Falcons didn't measure up to its counterpart from the prior year. In this case, the same two teams averaged 19.1 million watchers on Dec. 27, 2010, the third-largest MNF audience to date.
In addition to a number of games involving smaller market teams, ESPN's 2011 MNF slate took Nielsen hits with a bevy of non-competitive affairs. Starting with week 10 and ending with the Saints-Falcons, the closest margin of victory in the final seven MNF contests was 17 points.