Peyton, Eli Boost NFL Ratings for ESPN, NBC

The Brothers Manning helped set two ratings records this weekend, as sibling QBs Peyton and Eli helped ESPN and NBC put up some impressive numbers in a pair of prime time NFL contests.

Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Monday helped ESPN deliver the largest cable audience of 2009, erasing the previous high-water mark set by the sports net in the previous week.

With its third Monday Night Football contest of the 2009-10 NFL season––premiere week kicked off with a twin bill––ESPN served up 14.7 million total viewers, outpacing the Sept. 14 Patriots-Bills opener by some 700,000 viewers.

Monday night’s game was down from the prior year, when a whopping 18.6 million fans tuned in for the Sept. 15 installment of MNF, per Nielsen ratings data. In what would be the final MNF game staged at Texas Stadium, the Eagles-Cowboys battle set the all-time record for a delivery on a basic cable network.

Through the first three MNF games of the new season, ESPN is averaging 13.5 million total viewers viewers, down just a hair from the year-ago average (13.6 million). That said, ESPN is off to a fast start this year, as two of its first three MNF telecasts have drawn at least 14 million viewers. By comparison, only two MNF contests notched deliveries of that scope, and the second of the two didn’t occur until Nov. 3 (Steelers-Redskins, 14.2 million viewers).

Meanwhile, Eli Manning served up some ratings magic of his own, as NBC’s Sunday Night Football delivered 24.8 million viewers on Sept. 20, up 39 percent from the year-ago SNF telecast.

Eli’s New York Giants cast a pall over the much-ballyhooed Cowboys Stadium, spoiling the $1.15 billion facility’s national debut with a 33-31 win over their NFC East rivals, in a nail biter that notched a 9.9 HH rating among adults 18-49.

The Giants-Cowboys tilt now stands as the most-watched regular season NFL telecast since Dec. 15, 1997, when 27 million viewers tuned in for a Denver Broncos-San Francisco 49ers game.

Three years ago, NBC played host to both siblings in what came to be known as “The Manning Bowl.” The Sept. 10, 2006, meeting between the Colts and Giants averaged 22.6 million viewers, making it NBC’s third-most watched SNF game. (Last season’s Giants-Cowboys brawl drew 23.1 million viewers on Sept. 14.)