The Monday Night Football Schedule is Boring, But ESPN Doesn't Care
The Monday Night Football schedule hasn't exactly been packed with exciting games this year. As an article by Business Insider recently pointed out, the Monday Night Football match-up two weeks ago was a microcosm of how the first half of the year has gone for the popular broadcast. The Giants and Vikings had combined for only one win all season long.
While such boring theater may have millions of football fans grumbling as they make their way to work on Tuesday mornings, such matchups haven't put a damper on the bet that Disney's ESPN made when it paid $1.8 billion for rights to the games.
Source: Mike Morbeck, via Wikimedia Commons
Where's the drama?
Every year, the NFL schedule-makers have a vested interest in seeing high-profile match-ups appear on Monday Night; the broadcast is one of the highest rated slots in television. That's also why ESPN is willing to pay so much for broadcasting rights.
Based on last year's performance, the first eight games this year should have been great match-ups. Alas, that hasn't turned out to be the case — and it might not get any better as the year goes on.
2012 Combined Winning Percentage
2013 Combined Winning Percentage
Difference (percentage points)
Eagles, Redskins, Texans, Chargers
Source: NFL.com, does not include games completed yesterday.
In all, 10 out of the 16 weeks feature weaker matchups than the previous year would have predicted. And where significant improvements were seen (weeks 4 and 13), that is largely due to a dramatically improved Saints team — which was expected by everyone given the reinstatement of head coach Sean Payton.
Why ESPN doesn't mind
Of course, everyone wants great games to be played on TV, including studio executives. But it's too simple to say that teams' records are the only determinant of who might watch a game -- heck, people even watch the Jaguars. For the execs, more important than performance are the ratings obtained. And on that front, there's little to fret about.
The awful Giants-Vikings matchup drew almost 15 million viewers. That's above the season average of about 13 million viewers — which is about the same as it was last year, according to TV By the Numbers .
What's more is the fact that ESPN is seeing huge growth in its NFL digital platforms during the broadcasts. The amount of traffic on the company's website has increased by 19% during the games compared to last year, and the number of unique visitors watching the game via WatchESPN has almost doubled.
In addition, the station's mobile app and fantasy football app have shown tremendous audience growth — 72% and 111%, respectively — over the past year. All that combines to mean that ESPN is not only able to raise revenue through ads on its flagship station during the game, but also via mobile advertising across several apps.
Apparently, Las Vegas thinks tonight's game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will be a sleeper, too. The Packers are favored by seven-and-a-half points, the second-largest margin among NFL games this week. ESPN probably doesn't mind too much.
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