The sorry tableau of two replacement referees standing side by side in the end zone making opposite calls on a controversial play at the end of ESPN's "Monday Night Football" led to the largest audience on record for the post-game SportsCenter show.
That image of those two hopeless referees making the opposite call on a contested reception will long serve as the symbol of what has happened to the game in this labor dispute between the real referees and owners.
But the ratings for the games, compromised as they might be by utterly inept officiating, just keep going up.
Sunday's contest between the Ravens and the New England Patriots was seen by 21.3 million viewers. The Emmys, which were on ABC opposite the game, were seen by 13.1 million.
Here's the ESPN release on its ratings winner Monday. Note this is a cable channel beating the broadcast networks even as some of them are rolling out new fall shows.
ESPN and Monday Night Football Win the Night
Packers-Seahawks Delivers 12.0 Rating and 16.2 Million Viewers
Postgame SportsCenter is Most-Viewed and Second Highest-Rated in the Show's History
Last night's ESPN Monday Night Football game – the Seattle Seahawks' controversial 14-12 last-second victory over the Green Bay Packers – helped ESPN win the night among all networks – broadcast or cable – in households, viewers and all key male and adult demos. Similarly, MNF led all television programs.
The game earned a 12.0 household coverage rating (10.3 US), representing an average of 11,751,000 households (16,167,000 viewers – P2+), the third largest audience among viewers (second among households) for any program on cable television in 2012, according to Nielsen. The game peaked between 11:45 p.m. – 12 a.m. ET (the final 15 minutes of the game) at a 13.8 household coverage rating.
ESPN's BCS National Championship Game (Alabama-LSU, 1/9/12) ranks as the most-viewed program of Nielsen's year (24,214,000 viewers), followed by the network's 2012 Rose Bowl (17,558,000 – Wisconsin-Oregon, 1/2/12).
In Milwaukee, the game delivered a 15.1 rating on ESPN and a 37.8 rating on WISN-ABC, for a combined 52.9 rating in the market. In Seattle, the game delivered a 19.6 rating on ESPN and a 15.7 rating on KONG-IND, for a combined 35.3 rating in the market. Other top-10 rated markets include: Las Vegas (20.4), Minneapolis-St. Paul (16.5), New Orleans (16.2), Richmond, Va. (16.2), San Diego (15.3), Jacksonville (14.8), Denver (14.6) and Norfolk, Va. (14.2).
Through the first three weeks of the NFL season (four games), ESPN's MNF is averaging a 10.0 household coverage rating (8.6 US), 9,798,000 households and 13,358,000 viewers, virtually even with last season.
ESPN's Most-Viewed and Second Highest-Rated SportsCenter
ESPN's 90-minute MNF postgame SportsCenter (12-1:30 a.m. ET) delivered a 5.2 rating (4.5 US) with 5,092,000 households and 6,462,000 viewers, ranking as the network's most-viewed SportsCenter on record (airing 20 minutes or longer; records back to Jan. 1, 1990) among households and viewers. The previously most-viewed SportsCenter followed the MNF game on Nov. 14, 2011 (Minnesota vs. Green Bay): 4,470,000 households and 5,940,000 viewers.
The postgame SportsCenter also ranks as the second highest-rated SportsCenter (airing 20 minutes or longer) on record behind the Christmas night (12/25) show in 1994 that followed ESPN's NFL telecast between the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins (5.3 rating).