Buffalo Bills The Buffalo Bills walk off the field following a suspension of play in the first quarter of a Week 17 NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) was assisted off the field by ambulance, background. Buffalo Bills At Cincinnati Bengals Jan 2 0426

ESPN had a difficult job carrying on with a Monday Night Football broadcast that had less to do with football and more about the well-being of Damar Hamlin, who collapsed in the middle of the first quarter from a cardiac arrest. The network was praised for its coverage and as more people tuned in awaiting updates, the Buffalo BillsCincinnati Bengals game became the most watched MNF game since ESPN took over in 2006.

According to preliminary Nielsen ratings, the broadcast averaged 23,788,000 viewers from kickoff to 10:09, when the game was officially postponed and the broadcast shifted to Scott Van Pelt in Bristol. That beat the previous record, a Green Bay PackersMinnesota Vikings game in 2009 with 21.8 million viewers. CNN noted that while the two teams were playing, ESPN averaged 21.1 million viewers, and viewership grew to 23.9 million when the network shifted to news coverage.

It’s usually great for a network when they break a viewership record but not like this, and it wouldn’t be surprising if ESPN chooses not to celebrate this. CNN reported that an ESPN spokesperson told them that “given the special circumstances around Monday’s game, it was not clear whether the viewership numbers would be factored into the season average or used for historical purposes.”

As Hamlin was being treated on the field, and after he was transported by ambulance to a hospital, Monday Night Football shifted to news. And when there wasn’t any news to share, the on-air MNF crew mainly sympathized with Hamlin, his family, his teammates, and anyone watching on ABC or ESPN. Whether people tuned in to be informed or to be consoled, ESPN’s MNF crew did their job, and here’s hoping they don’t have to do that again.


About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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