In a historic turn of events, the “Monday Night Football” season opener between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets shattered viewership records, drawing more than 22.6 million viewers, marking the highest viewership since ESPN began broadcasting NFL games in 2006.
The highly anticipated game featured the Jets’ star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, making his debut with the team. However, the excitement turned to dismay as Rodgers suffered a devastating injury, tearing his left Achilles tendon on just his fourth snap of the game. The Jets managed to clinch victory in overtime with a score of 22-16, courtesy of Xavier Gipson’s electrifying 65-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Jets later confirmed that Rodgers would miss the remainder of the season.
This thrilling matchup, broadcast on ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, ESPN+, and ESPN Deportes, surpassed the network’s previous record set in 2009 when the Green Bay Packers faced their former quarterback, Brett Favre, and the Minnesota Vikings, drawing 21.8 million viewers. This year’s season opener saw a 14 percent increase in viewership compared to last year’s opener between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, which garnered a then-record 19.8 million viewers for a Week 1 Monday night contest.
Monday Night Football viewership breakdown
The viewership breakdown for this memorable Monday night included 11.7 million viewers on ABC, 9.4 million on ESPN, and 1.52 million on ESPN2, which offered the popular “ManningCast” alternate feed featuring Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.
Remarkably, the total viewership for this week’s “Monday Night Football” opener eclipsed recent totals for other major sporting events and awards shows, including the College Football Playoff final, the men’s NCAA Tournament final, the Kentucky Derby, the Oscars, and the Grammy Awards.
The tragic injury to Aaron Rodgers and the Jets’ astonishing comeback, culminating in Xavier Gipson’s game-winning punt return in overtime, contributed to the record-breaking evening for ESPN. The network announced that Jets-Bills became the most-watched “Monday Night Football” telecast since its inception in 2006.
Several factors fueled this remarkable viewership, including the star power of Aaron Rodgers, the dramatic storyline of his injury, the prominence of the New York Jets in a major market, the presence of MVP candidate Josh Allen leading the Buffalo Bills, and the nail-biting nature of an overtime thriller.
ESPN2’s “ManningCast” played a significant role, accounting for 1.52 million of the 22.6 million viewers. The previous viewership record for ESPN dated back to 2009 when Brett Favre’s return to face the Packers attracted 21.8 million viewers.
It’s worth noting that recent changes, such as the simulcast on multiple Disney-owned networks and the inclusion of out-of-home viewership by Nielsen, contributed to the record-breaking numbers. This milestone underscores the NFL’s unparalleled ability to capture the attention of audiences, with only a few exceptions like the Olympics and presidential debates commanding similar viewership numbers.
In summary, the “Monday Night Football” season opener between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets etched its name in history as the most-watched broadcast since ESPN’s NFL coverage began, thanks to the perfect storm of star power, dramatic narratives, and a breathtaking finish.