'MNF' Sets Ratings Record for ESPN

The debut of "Monday Night Football" on cable didn't draw quite as big an audience as it used to on over-the-air TV, but ESPN is hardly upset with its ratings.

The long-running franchise more than survived its move to cable, drawing ESPN's largest-ever audience for the first of two games Monday night. The network says the game between the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings averaged 12.57 million viewers, making it the most-watched telecast on cable in 2006.

Another 10.5 million stayed up to watch the second game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, which didn't start until 10:15 p.m. ET.

"'Monday Night Football' is a clear winner for ESPN," says George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. "We're thrilled that fans enjoyed our new day-long, multimedia approach to this storied franchise. To average more than 10 million viewers for each game demonstrates the power of 'Monday Night Football' and ESPN."

Measuring by households, the 9.177 million homes that tuned into the first game Monday is the second-most in cable history. (The all-time leader, believe it or not, is CNN's November 1993 telecast of a NAFTA debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot.)

In contrast, last year's season opener on ESPN (which then had the Sunday-night franchise) drew 11.25 million viewers. For the 2005 season, the network's Sunday-night games averaged about 8.7 million viewers. In its final year on ABC, "Monday Night Football" drew an average audience of 16.2 million per week.

The "MNF" performance capped a strong week for the NFL on TV. The debut of "Sunday Night Football" on NBC was the week's most-watched program with better than 22.5 million viewers, while the season-opening Thursday game drew 19.2 million, the most in the five years the NFL has kicked off its season on a Thursday.

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