The Dallas Cowboys have always been ratings bait, and whenever (cough) America’s Team appears in a prime-time broadcast, they put up robust numbers. And while that held true on Monday night, the team’s ignominious 1-5 record and the loss of quarterback Tony Romo may result in a delivery drought for the Cowboys’ remaining slate of four nationally televised games.
The New York Giants essentially put an end to Dallas’ 2010 campaign on Oct. 25, beating its NFC East rivals 41-35 in front of an ESPN Monday Night Football audience just shy of 18 million viewers (17.95 million, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data). The telecast now stands as the fourth most-watched program in cable history, trailing three other MNF games: Eagles-Cowboys in September 2008 (18.6 million), Patriots-Saints in December 2009 (21.4 million), and Brett Bowl I, the Packers-Vikings grudge match that scared up an all-time high 21.8 million fans last October.
Through the first seven weeks (eight games), ESPN’s MNF is averaging just under 15 million viewers (14.96 million), up slightly from the same time a year ago. That average would be significantly higher if not for an unpromising Titans-Jaguars game that turned out to be a blowout. The 30-3 stomping also went head-to-head with Game 3 of the MLB American League Championship Series on TBS; despite all that, the Oct. 18 MNF presentation still drew an entirely respectable 9.67 million viewers. (Yankees-Rangers averaged 8.21 million that same night.)
While the networks know Dallas is money in the ratings bank, it’s possible that NBC may opt to exercise the late-season flex schedule when the Cowboys host the Eagles on Dec. 14. After taking an eyeball-joggling hit from Giants’ linebacker Michael Boley, Romo sustained a fractured clavicle. He’ll be sidelined for the next 6-8 weeks, although it’s doubtful that Romo will have anything to return to once the bone mends. Thirty-eight-year-old Jon Kitna will line up under center for Dallas as the team suits up for its final 10 contests.
One national game that won’t be swapped out is the Nov. 25 meeting with New Orleans. Along with the Detroit Lions, the Cowboys have hosted one of the two traditional Thanksgiving Day games every year since 1966. (A third NFL Network game was added in 2006.) The Turkey Bowl will be particularly grueling this time around, as Dallas hosts the defending Super Bowl champs just four days after they’re to host the Lions for a 1:00 p.m. game on Fox.
As Cowboys fans watch their season circle the drain, NBA partisans last night reveled in the start of the 2010-11 pro hoops campaign. TNT tipped off the season with its much-anticipated Heat-Celtics telecast; per Nielsen, a record 7.43 million viewers tuned in to get their first look at LeBron James in a Miami uniform. The opener now stands as the most-watched NBA game in cable history, topping the Bulls-Lakers duel of Feb. 2, 1996 (7.27 million).
Despite a 31-point performance by James, the new-look Heat fell to their hosts by a 88-80 margin. Dwayne Wade was held to just 13 points, while Chris Bosh contributed eight. Boston led 45-30 at the half.
Game two of TNT’s doubleheader (Rockets-Lakers) served up 3.72 million viewers. The two-fer marks the most successful NBA opening night in Turner’s 27 years as a league partner, averaging 5.49 million total viewers.
Following their ring ceremony, the defending champion Lakers edged Houston 112-110. Pau Gasol put up 29 points on his home court, while Kobe Bryant racked up 27, a hair shy of his career opening-night average (27.7 ppg).