NFL Lifts ESPN to Victory

At this point in the game, it has become apparent that Hank Williams, Jr., is posing a purely rhetorical question when he asks about our collective readiness for football. We are ready, willing and able to watch NFL action, and ESPN’s November ratings illustrate this rather conclusively.

Buttressed by another powerhouse season of Monday Night Football, ESPN racked up its third consecutive monthly ratings race. Through Nov. 28, Bristol averaged 3.91 million total viewers in prime time, leaping 20 percent from its year-ago deliveries (3.26 million).

Per Nielsen ratings data, ESPN made a clean sweep of the crucial TV demos, drawing 1.94 million viewers 18-49 (up 21 percent versus November 2009), while serving up 1.91 million adults 25-54, an improvement of 17 percent from 1.63 million. The sports net also made a splash with younger viewers, averaging 949,000 members of the 18-34 demo, an increase of 24 percent from its year-ago number.

MNF accounted for the four most-watched programs on basic cable last month. On Nov. 8, the Steelers-Bengals battle delivered 15.1 million fans, topping the following week’s game (Eagles-Redskins) by some 2,100 viewers. On the first of the month, the Texans and Colts slugged it out in front of a national TV audience of 12 million fans, while the AFC West grudge match between the Chargers and Broncos served up 11.7 million viewers.

(While Nielsen categorizes the Nov. 29 MNF broadcast as part of December’s ratings, the less-than-compelling duel between the 3-7 Cardinals and the 3-7 49ers still managed to lure 11.2 million viewers. Football: It’s what’s for dinner.)

Through the first 11 weeks (12 games), ESPN’s MNF is averaging 14.3 million viewers, up 2 percent from the year-ago 14 million.

ESPN also put up some big numbers with its coverage of the NCAA Division I brawl between No. 1 Oregon and the University of Arizona. On Black Friday, some 7.79 million viewers watched as the Ducks crushed the Wildcats 48-29, in a victory that takes them one step closer to nailing down an invitation to the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Having kicked off its eight-game slate of live contests on Nov. 11, the NFL Network has roared to life, racking up three of the 20 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable. Thanksgiving’s Bengals-Jets game helped 7.11 million fans fight off the lingering effects of tryptophan, while the Bears and Dolphins fought it out in front of 5.42 million viewers on Nov. 18. NFL Net’s first game of the 2010-11 campaign, an avian skirmish between the Falcons and Ravens, drew 5.03 million viewers on Veteran’s Day.  

NFL Network saw its November deliveries spike 60 percent to 730,000 viewers. The pigskin channel joined the ranks of the top 20 destination for adults 25-54, averaging 389,000 viewers, a 54 percent increase from a year ago.

USA Network took second place on the month, averaging 2.74 million total viewers, a drop of 13 percent compared to last November’s 3.16 million. Although the network saw declines in the demos, USA claimed second place among the two biggies, drawing 1.16 million adults 25-54 (down 15 percent) and 1.13 million viewers 18-49 (down 11 percent from its year-ago 1.27 million).

Fox News Channel’s midterm election coverage helped bring home the bronze, as the news net drew a nightly audience of 2.15 million viewers, a dip of 3 percent versus a year ago. Among the core 25-54 news demo, FNC averaged 527,000 viewers, down 10 percent from 583,000.

FNC’s Nov. 2 election coverage averaged 6.96 million viewers in prime. The news net’s strongest hour arrived at 9 p.m., when 7.17 million viewers watched as the results began pouring in.