How bad does a football game have to be before people tune out? Worse than last night's mess, apparently. Vikings-Giants pulled a 9.5 overnight rating—meaning, roughly, somewhere between 14 and 15 million viewers.
The big rating goes against the grain, with MNF telecasts—and all national games—showing declines from last year. The largest reason for the Nielsen jump was a lack of baseball up against it, but that's still a big number.
During last night's shitfest, you couldn't miss viewers complaining about the quality of the game in the context of what ESPN is paying to broadcast Monday Night Football. This tweet sums up the sentiment:
ESPN could have televised the entire EPL season for what this Vikings-Giants game tonight cost them.
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) October 22, 2013
That's absolutely true. The NFL's deal with ESPN pays it an average of $1.9 billion per season. NBC's Premier League contract is $250 million over three years. In terms of entertainment value, hell yeah give us a season of soccer over Josh Freeman overthrowing his receivers for three hours. In terms of return? That's iffier. It's tough to find exact numbers (Premier League games don't crack their days' lists of the Top 100 cable programs), but through the first month of the season NBCSN averaged 367,000 viewers per match.
A TV contract is only as good as the ads you can sell against it. (And with the EPL deal costing a relative pittance, the opportunity cost is negligible.) As long as football is king, and as long as millions of Americans continue to prefer unwatchable blowouts to spending time with their families, ESPN isn't about to regret carrying the NFL.