ESPN paid a high price to land a high-profile "Monday Night Football" booth of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. One week in, the returns are looking good.
Monday night's game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks was ESPN's most-watched MNF game since 2009 and its third-best regular season game since taking over the timeslot from ABC in 2006, the network announced Tuesday.
Between ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes, 19,845,000 viewers tuned in for the game.
The only other two regular season games to see more viewers were both in 2009, with 21.8 million tuning for a Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers game (Brett Favre's return to Green Bay) and 21.4 million watching a 10-0 New Orleans Saints team face the New England Patriots. Last postseason's Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game also saw more viewers with 20.2 million.
ESPN's 'Monday Night Football' opener had help beyond Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
All of that is very encouraging for ESPN, which gave Aikman and Buck a reported $165 million combined to jump over from Fox Sports. Of course, the ratings win isn't purely attributable to the pair, as the game itself obviously presented the compelling story of Russell Wilson's Week 1 return to Seattle after his blockbuster trade last offseason.
The highly anticipated game ended with drama and controversy (ESPN's two favorite words), as new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett made the puzzling decision to attempt a 64-yard field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-5. Kicker Brandon McManus, who had never made a field goal longer than 61 yards in his career, missed wide left.
After a full night of criticism, Hackett admitted he "definitely" should have gone for it on Tuesday.
Also aiding that number was ESPN2's "Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli" garnering 1,502,000 viewers, an 86 percent increase from last year's Week 1 debut, per ESPN.
ESPN will try to build on that momentum next week with a "Monday Night Football" double bill, featuring Buck and Aikman on a Minnesota Vikings- Philadelphia Eagles game at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC and last year's crew of Steve Levy, Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick handling Tennessee Titans-Buffalo Bills game at 7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.