ESPN is coming off its most successful Monday Night Football broadcast of the season, drawing an average of 14 million viewers, which was up 36 percent year-over-year, for the Chiefs win against the Ravens.
Week 4 won't be so kind.
With the Chiefs game against the Patriots being moved to Monday night this week following Cam Newton being diagnosed with COVID, ESPN will now be competing against the top broadcast booth in football (Tony Romo and Jim Nantz) and for viewership against CBS. Even worse, it will do so starting from behind.
Chiefs-Patriots has been scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday night and, as mentioned, will be broadcast on CBS. Packers-Falcons will kick off at 8:50 p.m. ET and will broadcast on ESPN. It's kind of like the season-opening Monday night doubleheader ESPN broadcast to start the season and the numbers indicate this won't favor the late game.
In Week 1, the early game on Monday night featuring the Steelers and Giants drew 10.8 million viewers while the late game featuring the Raiders and Broncos drew 7.7 million viewers. Part of that has to do with the fan bases and the general interest in the games. The Steelers have one of the most loyal fan bases and the Giants play in the biggest media market in the nation whereas Broncos-Raiders wasn't quite as buzzy of a game. However, if you apply that logic to this week, you run into the same issue for ESPN.
The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions, are arguably the best team this season and have the best quarterback in the league playing for them. The Patriots have the intrigue of how the team will play without Newton and are still a competitive team with Bill Belichick at the helm. Meanwhile, the Packers are a top team in the NFC with a loyal fanbase, but the Falcons are 0-3 and don't have a compelling storyline that will draw in casual viewers.
In the battle of game quality, it's a clear win for CBS.
Likewise, the announcer booths favor CBS. Romo is a draw for casual viewers and is the best analyst in the game. Nantz is as polished as they come and pairs perfectly with Romo. ESPN's new booth of Louis Riddick, Brian Griese and Steve Levy has been solid in their debut season so far, but they're not close to Romo and Nantz.
Of course, ESPN had no choice in how things played out and will just have to go forward and try and produce the best broadcast it can and hope their ratings don't sink too much because of these circumstances. But they face an uphill climb in Week 4 just seven days after celebrating a big win.