Monday Night Football Week 17 Dec 30, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (14) scores a touchdown against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore (21) in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Despite airing on a Saturday night in Week 17, Monday Night Football delivered a third historic audience for ABC and ESPN since November.

The Dallas Cowboys’ 20-19 win over the Detroit Lions averaged 25.663 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes, the third-largest audience for an MNF game since 1997. The top two also came this season – Eagles-Chiefs back in Week 11 and Ravens-49ers on Christmas Day.

For the season, MNF is averaging 17.1 million viewers, good for the package’s most-watched season since it moved to ESPN in 2006. Viewership for Monday Night Football is up 33% from last season.

What brought the massive increase this season? Simulcasting the season on ABC due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes has been a boon for viewership, adding over-the-air broadcasts to nearly the full slate of cable broadcasts on ESPN and increasing MNF’s reach.

Nielsen’s out-of-home viewing metric, which first began to be implemented in 2020, has also had an impact, though its degree is unknown. But before 2020, those out-of-home viewers simply weren’t part of Nielsen’s viewership estimates. No matter how high or low the estimate is, OOH viewing is giving MNF (and all other sports packages) a bump.

The late-season trifecta of incredible games has also helped MNF. The Eagles-Chiefs Super Bowl rematch was highlighted and circled on every fan’s calendar heading into the season, and it didn’t disappoint. Ravens-49ers on Christmas Day had a bit less hype, but ended up being a potential Super Bowl preview between the top seeds in each conference. The Cowboys are always a big national draw, but their game with the Lions took on even more meaning than expected given Detroit’s NFC North-winning season.

MNF also had a number of close games on the schedule (from Week 10-17, all but one game was decided by one score), which surely kept viewers tuned in for longer, increasing their average viewership.

ESPN’s 2023 regular season concludes with a Week 18 doubleheader on Saturday, which technically appears to be outside of the MNF package. The AFC top-seed Ravens host the Steelers at 4:30 p.m. ET, while the Colts host the Texans at 8:15 p.m. ET with a playoff spot on the line. ESPN’s top MNF crew of Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Lisa Salters will call the game in Indianapolis, while Chris Fowler, Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick, and Laura Rutledge will be at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.


About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.