The NFL normally plays backup to no one — but that’s exactly what happened Monday night.
ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” had to compete with the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and it took a hit.
The Atlanta Falcons 45-32 win over the New Orleans Saints brought in an overnight rating of 5.7, down roughly a third from the 8.3 rating brought in by last week’s game between the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles.
To get these numbers, Nielsen takes the percentage of households watching in 56 cities and comes up with an overnight average — which means that it estimates that 5.7% of households were tuned into the game in those markets on Monday night.
Despite the sharpness of the drop, ESPN probably doesn’t have much reason to worry, as there was probably nothing that could have done better. The showdown between Clinton and Trump was far higher rated than the first debates in 2008 and 2012, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings data, and may end up as having been the most-watched debate in U.S. history.
These ratings seem to prove Trump was wrong when he suggested this summer that the Clinton campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates had colluded to schedule the debate against the NFL in order to minimize viewership for the debate.
Viewership for the game, which ran from 8:15 p.m. to 11:37 p.m. ET, peaked right before the beginning of the debate with a 6.9 rating at about 8:45 p.m. ET.
The NFL has struggled out of the gate this season, with viewership being down or stagnant across the board. “Monday Night Football” isn’t immune to this being down 12% through the first two weeks.
“MNF” is averaging 11.8 million viewers through the first two weeks, down from the 13.4 million viewers it averaged in the same period last year.
This is not the first time that “Monday Night Football” had to go against a presidential debate. In 2012, ESPN’s broadcast of the Chicago Bears 13-7 win over the Detroit Lions averaged 10.6 million viewers on the same night as the third and final presidential debate, down from an average of 12.8 million that year.
ESPN will release final ratings for the Monday night game, including viewership, on Tuesday afternoon.