Another Monday Night Football season is in the books for ESPN, and the results aren't good. The ratings for this year's season were the lowest since 2008, a four year low for ESPN due mostly to some terrible matchups and ugly blowouts that killed any sort of momentum ESPN had.
The highest rated game of the season featured the lone Cowboys appearance on Monday nights this year, with their Week 4 loss to the Bears drawing 16.6 million viewers and a 10.5 rating. That was the final game of a three week stretch that saw ESPN draw at least 15 million viewers an a 10 rating, peaks that ESPN reached for just one game over the season's final three months (Giants-Redskins, Week 13).
The final 12 weeks of the season were a horror show for ESPN in terms of both pregame hype and on-field competitiveness. From Weeks 5 through 12, seven of the eight games that ESPN aired featured a team that currently has at least nine losses, with Week 11's Bears-49ers matchup being the lone outlier. Over the season's final three months, there were just two games on the slate featuring potential playoff teams: the aforementioned Bears-49ers matchup, and Week 13's Texans-Patriots game.
ESPN also banked on perennially good teams having good years and bringing in ratings, a formula that has worked in the past. Well, the Jets and Eagles were on Monday Night Football twice each, and have combined for 20 losses this year. The Lions were a great story last year, were featured twice, and have lost 11 games. The Chargers were on twice, and have 9 losses.
Only 9 of the 17 games aired were decided by one score, and 4 ended up being decided by at least 20 points. Contrast that to Sunday Night Football, which had 11 games decided by one score and 3 being decided by at least 20 points, and Thursday Night Football, which featured 4 close games and 3 blowouts in their expanded slate, and you can see that ESPN drew the short straw this year.
It's clear that with the addition of a full slate of Thursday Night Football, ESPN is going to suffer with some of their matchups. The NFL has ESPN in a hard spot, knowing that they're never going to simply throw their hands up and walk away from the league if their schedule doesn't improve. And while the ratings for the NFL Network this year have been up, ratings across the board have been down everywhere else, including on CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoons. The NFL might be able to get away with pulling the carrot away from ESPN a little bit, but they may have to find some way to ensure MNF can get some consistently better matchups.