Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) passes under pressure from Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (90) and defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) during the Kansas City Chiefs game versus the Baltimore Ravens on September 28, 2020 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD.
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Perhaps the most exciting matchup of the National Football League’s Week 3 schedule paid off for ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ 34-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens averaged 14 million viewers, significantly higher than the week one average of 10.8 million viewers. The game peaked in the first half at 16.2 million viewers around 9:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m, the network said.
The top five markets for the contest outside Kansas City and Baltimore included Denver, San Diego, Pittsburgh.
Monday’s game featured the last two NFL MVP quarterbacks in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Ravens Lamar Jackson, the reigning winner.
Mahomes, who also won the Super Bowl LIV MVP and agreed a 10-year $503 million extension in July, threw for 385 yards, four touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Jackson competed 15 of 28 passes for 97 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 83 yards and one touchdown.
Dan Cohen, senior vice president of Octagon’s Global Media Rights Consulting division, said the game’s strong viewership shows the impact of the NFL’s star power outside of its clubs.
“Much like other sports, especially the NBA as a comparison, this speaks to the growing trend that athletes are driving a greater share of tune-in and engagement over the individual team itself,” he said.
“I may not be a Chiefs or Ravens fan, but I want to watch Mahomes and Jackson because I am a fan of one or both. Some may call this the ‘LeBron effect.'”
Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens stiff arms Juan Thornhill #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium on September 28, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Todd Olszewski | Getty Images
“These guys are the new face of the NFL, the two of them,” added Neal Pilson, founder of consulting firm Pilson Communications.
Pilson, who spent 13 years as president of CBS Sports, said Mahomes and Jackson continue to grow “into household names” and their national interest should “fuel” more strong viewership numbers for their teams.
“It’s more than just the one game,” Pilson added. “It feeds the entire season, and that’s a plus. That’s why the NFL is the NFL, and nobody else is the NFL. You get these opportunities for national games and personal rivalries. It is what the NFL is designed to be.”
After reporting a 17% drop in week 1 versus last year’s Monday Night Football debut, ESPN says its MNF viewership is up 4% season-to-date from its 2019 viewership after four games and averaging 12 million viewers per game.
Pilson cautioned to “resist the temptation” of believing NFL viewership would suffer long-term after starting the year with declines. He said with changing consumption habits and “other compelling options” for viewers to select, a week of down ratings isn’t concerning.
“Ratings go up and down depending on who is playing but also depending on what else is on the air,” he said, predicting more viewership declines in sports as the presidential election is nearly a month away.
“Even if ratings are down, there aren’t many other better options,” said Pilson. “When you look at the available choices for networks and sponsors, the NFL is number one.”
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