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NFL Might Want to Rethink 'Monday Night Football' Doubleheaders If It Wants to Maximize Viewership

Liam McKeone
Tennessee Titans v Buffalo Bills
Tennessee Titans v Buffalo Bills / Cooper Neill/GettyImages
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This past Monday, ESPN and Disney again tried their hand at broadcasting two NFL games in one night. In recent years, the Monday Night Football doubleheader has not been met with much praise. But this season, the setup was different. Instead of broadcasting one early game and one late game, the two matchups were played simultaneously as Bills-Titans started at 7:15pm ET on ABC and Vikings-Eagles started at 8:30pm ET on ESPN.

The hope, presumably, was that Disney would enjoy the big viewership numbers that usually accompany an early NFL broadcast on ABC and then reap the weekly benefits of MNF, now featuring Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. But the ratings suggest things didn't quite shake out that way.

In the interest of numerical context, ESPN reeled in a shade under 20 million viewers for MNF in Week 1. The last time there was a Monday Night Football doubleheader in 2020, the combination of Steelers-Giants and Titans-Broncos earned a total of about 18 million viewers.

So this year is definitely an improvement! And is probably quite encouraging for ESPN and Disney as neither game was even remotely close. Boring games don't rake in the viewers regardless of its primetime status. If both games were competitive the total viewership may have creeped up to something like 22 or 23 million. No matter what, hitting the 20 million mark is probably considered a success in the network offices considering how it stacks up to the last Monday night doubleheader.

Yet the fact that this year's doubleheader only received a million more viewers than last week's standard MNF broadcast stands out. Week 1 had a lot more going for it in terms of storylines and, as the season debut, was generally more enticing than this week's offering. But in the NFL's eyes, it essentially burned two games to get in the same viewership ballpark as a solitary game in the same timeslot would've received. Two pretty good games in the inventory on top of that.

At the end of the day the numbers were better than in years past and having those two games on Monday helps the 4pm ET timeslots on Sunday shake out easier. But the Monday Night Football doubleheader wasn't quite a raging success. Or, at least, not so successful that there won't be discussions about its viability for next year.

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