Audience Insights: Monday Still a Fun Day for ESPN

10.03.2023 David Gustafson3 min


They always left the Carpenters feeling down. The Mamas and the Papas said you can’t trust them. The Bangles spent theirs wishing it was Sunday. Even Garfield the cartoon cat famously loathed them.

For football fans, though, Mondays – more specifically, Monday nights – have long been a high point, with marquee NFL matchups showcased in primetime to cap off each week of the season. Beginning with the 2006 season, ESPN has been the home for Monday Night Football, which has consistently ranked among the most-watched series on Cable.

But this season, some things about Monday nights are a bit different. While ESPN is still the flagship network for Monday Night Football, sister network ABC has announced plans to bolster its fall programming lineup by airing or simulcasting MNF games every week of the season.  While not the first time ABC has turned to Cable for programming assistance (the network picked up USA’s “Monk” to spice up its summer slate back in 2002), this season’s Monday move has sparked questions about potential impacts to ESPN’s Monday Night Football viewership.

The inquiring minds on our Audience Insights team have studied the film for the first four weeks of action – approximately a quarter of the season – and determined that ESPN continues to “move the chains” when it comes to attracting a Monday-night fanbase that is attractive to advertisers.

Here now is a rundown of key early-season stats from what is shaping up to be another game-winning drive for ESPN:

FIRST DOWN: ESPN is delivering a younger MNF audience.

Based on Cox Media analysis of Nielsen national averages through the first four weeks of Monday Night Football this season, nearly half (45%) of ESPN’s adult MNF viewers are 18-49 years of age. By comparison, approximately two-thirds (67%) of ABC MNF viewers are 50 years of age or older. As a result, the estimated median age among ESPN Monday Night Football viewers is 51, compared to 57 for ABC.  

SECOND DOWN: ESPN is delivering a more affluent MNF audience.

Similar analysis of Nielsen national income data reveals that ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecasts typically reach homes with higher median income levels. Through four games, the estimated median household income for ESPN’s MNF audience was nearly $99,000 – more than 14% higher than the ABC figure of just over $86,000.

THIRD DOWN: ESPN is outperforming ABC head-to-head among Men 25-54.

For the second and third weeks of the 2023 Monday Night Football season, ESPN and ABC aired completely different games. For Week 1 and Week 4, though, the two networks went head-to-head, simulcasting Bills-Jets on Sept. 11 and Seahawks-Giants on Oct. 2. During those two simulcast weeks, ESPN out-delivered ABC by nearly 29% in the core sports demographic of Men 25-54 – despite ESPN being available in 40% fewer homes than ABC nationwide.

With performances like that, ESPN’s coverage of Monday Night Football appears poised to continue brightening a much-maligned day of the week – giving football fans something to look forward to, while enabling advertisers to feel confident about their investment.  By season’s end, here’s hoping we’re all looking back and echoing the words of the late Jimmy Buffett: “Come Monday, it’ll be alright!” 

Questions?  Use the form to the right to connect with a Marketing Expert or contact your local Cox Media team today!

Headshot_David Gustafson
About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Audience Research, David drives positive outcomes for marketers by applying a unique blend of data-informed analysis, industry expertise, and storytelling skills that have earned him a tenured role as the company’s “Professor.” Specializing in audience measurement and market intelligence, David is a member of the Ampersand Cross-MVPD Research Committee, Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore.

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