Heightened by the emotional story line surrounding the New Orleans Saints' return to the Superdome on Monday night, the team's 23-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on ESPN drew the largest audience in the history of the network.
The game was being watched at any given time in an average of 10,850,00 homes and had a viewing audience of nearly 15 million.
It was the first time ESPN attracted an average of more than 10 million homes, and the game drew a larger audience than any of the first-run network prime-time shows Monday.
The number of households is the second most for any ad-supported cable network. The record is 11,174,000 for CNN's coverage of the Al Gore-Ross Perot debate in November 1993.
According to ESPN, Monday's game drew an 11.8 rating, but that is for the nation's 90 million cable and satellite homes. The overall rating, counting all 110 million U.S. television households, was a 9.7.
In Los Angeles, the viewing audience was 598,000 and the overall rating was an 8.4.
The Sunday night game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots on NBC had 15.6 million viewers and a rating of 10. But unlike ESPN on Monday night, NBC did not win the night. ABC's "Desperate Housewives" attracted 24 million viewers, CBS' "Without a Trace" 17.4 million and CBS' "Cold Case" 16 million.
In Los Angeles, Sunday night's game had an audience of 757,000 and a rating of 9.8.
Three weeks into the season, NBC is averaging a 12.3 rating on Sunday nights and ESPN an 8.5 on Monday nights. But counting only cable and satellite homes, the ESPN average rating is a 10.3.
Last season at this point, ESPN was averaging an 8.5 overall on Sunday nights and ABC an 11.1 on Monday nights.
NBC might be doing well with football on Sunday nights, but it did not do well with the Ryder Cup. With European golfers dominating Americans over the weekend, those ratings were down. NBC averaged an overnight national rating of 3.0 for its two days of coverage. In 2004, NBC averaged a 3.4 overnight rating. Final national ratings were not available.
In L.A., the Ryder Cup got a 3.0 rating for Saturday's coverage and a 2.1 for Sunday's.