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Monday Doubleheader Rates Well for the NFL

September 13, 2006|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

ESPN scored record ratings in televising the NFL's first regularly scheduled Monday night doubleheader -- and viewers may get a sequel.

The league, beginning next season, could schedule more Monday night doubleheaders, particularly on the opening weekend, according to Howard Katz, the NFL's senior vice president of broadcasting.

"We were pleased," Katz said Tuesday. "It's a little premature to talk about next year, but it's certainly food for thought."

There were some concerns about how well the six-plus consecutive hours of football would do Monday night, particularly when there was competing programming about the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and President Bush's address to the nation.

But the two games did much better than expected. The first game, a 19-16 victory by the Minnesota Vikings over the Washington Redskins, drew a national Nielsen rating of 8.2 for the full U.S. television audience of 110 million households. However, ESPN, basing the rating on the percentage of households among its audience of 90 million homes, said it was a 9.9. That is commonly referred to as a cable rating.

Overall, the game was watched in an average of nearly 9.2 million households, a record for ESPN and all other ad-supported cable networks, breaking the previous record of 8.9 million households for a Christmas Day ESPN game between the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins.

Monday night's second game, a 27-0 blowout by the San Diego Chargers over the Oakland Raiders that ended past 1 a.m. in the East, still got a 7.1 overall national rating, an 8.5 cable rating, and was seen in an average of nearly 7.9 million households.

John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president of content, said he and Katz had had preliminary discussions on the Monday night doubleheader concept.

"I don't want to speculate, but we'd be interested in looking into the possibility," Skipper said. "It would be premature for me to say we would be in favor of it. There are scheduling and other concerns on the part of the league."

New York sports television consultant Neal Pilson said the idea of having more opening weekend Monday night doubleheaders "will get looked at, particularly since the league has put so much focus on the launch of the season in recent years. The league is not averse to capitalizing on success."

The doubleheader was scheduled for this season's opening weekend to give ESPN 17 games while avoiding a Monday night game on the final weekend. Playoff teams have complained that playing on Monday night the final weekend robs them of a day of practice as they head into postseason play.

In Los Angeles, Monday's first game, starting at 4 p.m., got a 6.2 overall rating and was seen in 345,000 homes. The second game got a 10.4 rating and was seen in 573,000 homes.

Not only did the ratings for the doubleheader apparently confirm America's insatiable appetite for pro football, so did the ratings for the entire opening weekend.

NBC's first Sunday night telecast, a 26-21 win by Indianapolis over the New York Giants in a quarterback battle of the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, got a 14.3 national rating. That compares to a 13.0 for the first Monday night game on ABC last season. "Monday Night Football" moved to ESPN this year after 36 years on ABC.

The 14.3 and a 12.6 rating for last Thursday's NFL season opener between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins gave NBC the two highest-rated prime-time shows for the week ending Sunday.

The L.A. rating for Sunday night's game was an 11.2, the highest rating for any prime-time show here last week. The Thursday night game got an 8.6 in L.A.

"We're thrilled beyond measure," said NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol. Fox and CBS also did well with their NFL coverage over the weekend.

Fox, with its national coverage of Dallas at Jacksonville, got a 14.3 national rating, the highest ever for Fox on opening weekend. The game got an 11.9 in L.A.

Fox's pregame show, which this year is being done from game sites and with Joe Buck as host, got a solid 3.6 rating, a 9% increase over last season's opening weekend. "We obviously got a bang for our Buck," said Fox Sports President Ed Goren.

CBS' "The NFL Today," with James Brown, formerly of Fox, as the new host, got an impressive 3.5 rating. That's a 25% increase over the show on opening weekend last year.

The overall success of the NFL this weekend didn't surprise Pilson. "The change in the network packages drew more attention to the league than in the past, and there was a public curiosity about the new talent assignments and the new packages," he said.

Said Ebersol, "It once again shows the NFL is the biggest guy in the neighborhood."

larry.stewart@latimes.com

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