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 33-21 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’ NFL viewership was not available as of Tuesday afternoon.
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.
Disclosure: NBC Sports, which shares parent company NBCUniversal with CNBC, broadcasts NFL games.