Football Continues Ratings Roll

For the 21st consecutive year, Hank Williams, Jr., last Monday night asked the nation if it was ready for some football. In keeping with historical precedent, the nation roared back, “Hell yeah.”

On Sept. 14, ESPN kicked off the 40th season of Monday Night Football with an AFC doubleheader, drawing 14 million viewers with the 7 p.m. Pats-Bills showdown, before heading out to Oakland for the Raiders-Chargers tilt. The 10:15 p.m. game retained 85 percent of its lead-in, averaging 11.9 million viewers.  

Tom Brady’s return after a year on the sidelines helped ESPN draw cable’s largest audience of 2009, averaging 7.74 million viewers 18-49 and 7.41 million adults 25-54, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data. The late game also delivered huge demos, averaging 7.54 million viewers 18-49 (a retention rate of 97 percent from its lead-in), while holding onto 95 percent of the 25-54 set, with 7.01 million.

College football also drew a crowd to ESPN, as the network delivered 4.39 million viewers Thursday night with its telecast of the Georgia Tech-Miami contest. Some 2.22 million viewers 18-49 and 25-54 watched the  Hurricanes exact revenge on the Yellow Jackets by a 33-17 margin, in a win that took the sting out of Tech’s 41-23 pounding of Miami last November.  

All told, ESPN closed out the week ended Sept. 20 with an average prime time delivery of 4.49 million total viewers and another straight sweep of the three major demos. The sports net beat all comers with a nightly draw of 2.33 million viewers 18-49, 2.31 million adults 25-54 and 1.14 million viewers 18-34.

USA Network held onto second place in prime, serving up 3.33 million total viewers, 1.41 million 25-54s and 1.2 million 18-49s. The network took third place among the 18-34 crowd, averaging 513,000, about 8,000 viewers shy of TNT’s 521,000.

Chief among USA’s ratings boosters were: WWE Raw, which scared up 4.92 million viewers Monday night between 9 p.m. and 11:07 p.m.; Monk, which landed 4.88 million viewers Friday night at 9 p.m.; and the 8 p.m. Wednesday repeat of NCIS (4.76 million). Monk lead-out Psych drew 3.74 million viewers.

Fox News Channel retained its third-place spot, averaging 2.61 million viewers, of which 686,000 were members of the core 25-54 demo, good for seventh on the week. The news net nailed down two top-10 programs on the week, including the Sept. 15 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, which drew 4.04 million viewers at 8 p.m., and the following night’s Factor, which served up nearly the same number.

O’Reilly also broke the million-viewer mark in the demo four times, delivering 1.14 million adults 25-54 on Wednesday night, 1.06 million on Tuesday, and 1.03 million on both Monday and Thursday nights.

A&E jumped five spots, finishing the week at number four (1.59 million viewers), while Nick at Nite moved up one rung to close out the top five (1.58 million). A&E posted its best demos with the 25-54 set, taking third on the week with 776,000. The network also drew a sixth-best 711,000 18-49s.

Among the advertiser demo, ESPN’s Bills-Pats skirmish won the week, drawing 7.74 million adults 18-49, while the lead-out game averaged 7.54 million. Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter drew 3.24 million viewers 18-49, while FX’ Sons of Anarchy scared up 2.46 million members of the demo. USA’s Raw served up 2.44 million.

Closing out the top 10 among the demo were: ESPN’s Georgia Tech-Miami coverage (2.22 million); the wee-small-hours-of-Monday-morning insomniac’s edition of Sportscenter (2.2 million, 1:40 a.m.-3:10 a.m.); Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta (2.19 million); Lifetime’s Project Runway (2.14 million) and Adult Swim’s Tuesday 11:30 p.m. Repeat of Family Guy, which drew 2.02 million 18-49s.

Last week’s top 10 ad-supported cable nets among the core TV demo were: ESPN, which averaged 2.33 million viewers 18-49, up 25 percent over the prior week’s 1.87 million; USA (1.2 million); TBS (899,000); FX (785,000); TNT (737,000); A&E (711,000); Spike TV (710,000); MTV (657,000); Syfy (643,000); and Bravo (631,000).

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel ended the week fourth among all basic cable nets, averaging 2.55 million prime time viewers. The Mouse cruised to its umpteenth win among the kiddie demos, averaging 1.07 million viewers 6-11 and 906,000 ‘tweens 9-14.

Disney nailed down its biggest delivery of the week on Sunday night, as a new installment of Hannah Montana drew 5.06 million total viewers in its 7:30 p.m. time slot. On Friday night, a Suite Life on Deck twin bill averaged 4.18 million viewers between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.; the latter half of the hour served up 4.55 million million viewers.