Peyton Place: NBC Scores With Manning’s Return

Week 1 of 'Sunday Night Football' delivers record ratings

The first week of the 2012-13 NFL season was something of a mixed bag, as record ratings in Sunday prime were offset somewhat by a blowout in the marquee Monday night game.

The Sept. 9 Sunday Night Football showdown between Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers averaged 27.6 million fans, making it the second most-watched regular season NFL broadcast on NBC. Only the Cowboys-Giants contest on New Year’s Day 2012 put up bigger numbers; the game that determined the NFC East title out-delivered Sunday’s broadcast by a margin of around 50,000 viewers.

Boasting an average 11.0 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, the Broncos-Steelers game now stands as the highest-rated prime-time regular season NFL broadcast in 15 years.

Sunday night’s game marked the first start for Manning since Jan. 8, 2011, when the New York Jets eliminated the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card game. Multiple neck surgeries kept the four-time MVP sidelined for the duration of the 2011-12 campaign, and after the Colts let Manning go, the Broncos snapped him up in March.

Showing no signs of rust, Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Broncos to a decisive 31-19 victory over the visiting Steelers.

As one might expect, Sunday night’s game drew the biggest crowds in the two home markets. Per Nielsen, 70 percent of TV households in Pittsburgh tuned in for the Steelers’ season opener, while 67 percent of Denver homes were glued to KUSA, the Mile High City’s NBC affiliate.

If Sunday night was a triumph for NBC, Monday night’s two-fer on ESPN failed to live up to the hype. Bristol kicked off its first Monday Night Football broadcast of the season with a grudge match between AFC North rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati.

While the Bengals seemed evenly matched with their hosts in the early going, the game had all the makings of a rout midway through the third quarter. By the time the final gun sounded, the Ravens had rung up 44 points to Cincy’s 13. As a result, ESPN delivered its all-time lowest ratings for an MNF opener, averaging 10.9 million viewers and a 4.7 in the dollar demo.

By comparison, Bengals-Ravens deliveries were down 25 percent versus ESPN’s 2011 MNF kickoff, when the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins averaged 14.6 million viewers. (Along with the lopsided score, it’s worth noting that Cincinnati (No. 35) and Baltimore (No. 27) are much smaller DMAs than Boston (No. 7) and Miami (No. 16).

Despite a 10:20 p.m. EDT starting time, Game 2 of ESPN’s MNF doubleheader retained much of its lead-in, averaging 10.5 million viewers and a 4.9 in the demo. The Chargers-Raiders battle kept pace with last season’s analogous Raiders-Broncos telecast (11.1 million viewers).

While the opening numbers were a bit of a letdown, MNF still put up the biggest demos of the night. Only the season premiere of NBC’s The Voice came close, averaging a 4.2 rating between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. That said, in terms of vanilla deliveries, The Voice ran the table, drawing 12.3 million total viewers.

Of course, prime-time isn’t the only game in town. The NFL on Fox on Sunday afternoon kicked off its 2012 campaign in front of a captive audience of 26.4 million viewers, an improvement of 2 percent versus the year-ago opener.

In the 4 p.m. national window, Fox’s coverage of the 49ers-Packers dogfight drew a 10.6 in the demo, up 4 percent versus a 10.2 a year ago. Approximately 95 percent of the local markets were fed the 49ers-Packers signal; a swath of towns from Roanoke, Va., to Jacksonville, Fla., picked up the Panthers-Bucs game, while fans in Arizona and the Pacific Northwest took in the meeting between the Seahawks and Cardinals.

CBS kicked off the season with a singleheader lineup that included Buffalo at the Jets, New England at Tennessee and Miami at Houston.