ESPN wrapped its fifth season of Monday Night Football with record deliveries, averaging 14.7 million total viewers over the course of 17 games.
The sports network got a boost from its final NFL broadcast in 2010, as the Dec. 27 NFC South battle between the Saints and Falcons whipped up 19.1 million fans, making it the third-most watched telecast in cable history.
The turnout for New Orleans' come-from-behind road victory now trails only the Oct. 5, 2009, grudge match between Brett Favre and the Vikings and his former Green Bay confreres (21.8 million viewers), and the Patriots-Saints shootout on Nov. 30 of last year (21.4 million).
Nine of this season's 17 MNF broadcasts delivered in excess of 15 million viewers, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data. Saints-Falcons topped runner-up Giants-Cowboys (Oct. 25) by some 1.1 million viewers. (That NFC East brawl now stands as Bristol's fifth biggest draw of all time.)
Even the worst MNF matchup, a 30-3 Titans evisceration of the Jaguars, drew just shy of 10 million viewers--9.67 million, to be as exact as Nielsen estimates will allow.
ESPN closed the curtain on its 2010 NFL campaign up 2 percent versus last season's average delivery of 14.4 million viewers. By way of comparison, ABC averaged 16.3 million viewers in its final MNF campaign.
Among all cable TV outlets, ESPN of late has enjoyed the greatest upsurge in ad sales dollars, soaring 22 percent in the third quarter, thanks to big gains in auto, financial services and telecom business.
Those increases have continued in the present quarter, thanks in no small part to high scatter pricing (25 percent above upfront rates) and the MNF franchise. On the year, ESPN boasted all 10 of the top 10 most-watched programs on basic cable, and 18 of the top 20.
NFL Network also boasted record deliveries in 2010, as its slate of Thursday night telecasts averaged 5.7 million viewers, up from 5.4 million a year ago.
The network put a bow on the season by drawing 7.8 million viewers with its Chistmas Night telecast of the Cowboys-Cardinals meeting. That delivery marks the service's largest in five seasons, behind only Dallas-New Orleans on Dec. 19, 2009 (10.5 million viewers), and Green Bay-Dallas on Nov. 29, 2007 (10.1 million viewers).
NFL Network is available to some 56 million households, or about 43 million subs shy of ESPN's overall reach.