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ESPN’s Monday Night Football opener draws 15.3 million viewers for Ravens-Raiders overtime game

Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens throws against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of their game at Allegiant Stadium on September 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Chris Unger | Getty Images

The National Football League ended the first week of its 2021 regular season drawing an average of 15.29 million viewers across ESPN channels, including ABC network, for the Monday Night Football opener between the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens.

The Raiders beat the Ravens 33-27 in a back-and-forth overtime game with multiple twists to conclude Week 1. Viewership was up 42% compared to last year’s game, and top markets included Baltimore, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Kansas City, and San Diego.

The 2020 MNF contest between the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers attracted an average of only 10.76 million viewers. With the pandemic playing a factor, that game was down roughly 17% compared to the first game of ESPN’s 2019 Week 1 doubleheader, which featured the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans and averaged 13.2 million viewers on ESPN channels.

On Monday, ESPN also debuted its alternate MegaCast featuring Peyton and Eli Manning providing commentary for the Raiders-Ravens game on its ESPN2 channel. The telecast attracted 800,000 viewers. The Manning brothers signed a three-year deal with Disney-owned ESPN which will feature the pair offering their thoughts and in-game breakdowns during the NFL season.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) finds an opening in the line against the Kansas City Chiefs on September 12th at GEHA field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

William Purnell | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Meanwhile, Sunday’s national NFL game on ViacomCBS featuring the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs averaged 19.53 million viewers. It was the most-watched opening weekend national game on CBS since the 2015 opener between the Ravens and Denver Broncos contest (23.28 million viewers).

Fox Sports’ averaged 16.23 million viewers for its Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints national game. That’s down from last year’s national opener between the Saints and Tampa Bay Bucs, which featured a star quarterback matchup between Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and averaged 25.8 million viewers.

The network entered the NFL opener after drawing 7.7 million viewers for its Saturday Oregon vs Ohio State college game.

The NFL commenced its 102nd season last Thursday with an average of 26 million total viewers for its Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys contest. NBC said the game peaked on TV at 25.4 million viewers between 9:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET. The 2021 opener marked a 20% increase in total viewership from last year’s NFL kickoff featuring the Chiefs and Texans.

Overall, the NFL said it’s Week 1 games combined averaged 17.4 million viewers, and drew “approximately” 100 million viewers in total across all games.

Disclosure: NBC Sports, which shares parent company NBCUniversal with CNBC, broadcasts NFL games.

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