NEW YORK — Chalking up strong Nielsen numbers on the opening night of the season, ESPN has started to earn back the staggering $4.8 billion it ponied up for exclusive cable rights to a Sunday-night package of National Football League games.
ESPN rushed to a 7.1 rating in cable homes, reaching 5.3 million households, for the Oakland-Kansas City game this past Sunday, starting at 8:15 p.m. ET. That rating was 13% higher than the 6.3 rating pulled in by the opening night game a year ago, on TNT, between Washington and Carolina. (Last year, ESPN shared the weekly Sunday games with TNT, which had exclusive rights to the contests during the first half of the season.)
The pregame “Sunday NFL Primetime” show at 7:30 p.m. harvested a 3.7 rating in cable households, which was 16% higher than that of a year ago. The national rating for the show was a 2.9, and it reached 2.8 million homes.
The Sunday-night programming, coupled with a NASCAR race on Sunday afternoon from 1 to 5 and a college-football game between Tennessee and Syracuse Saturday from noon to 3:39 p.m., helped ESPN finish a rare No. 1 among all cable networks for the week, with a 3.0 rating in cable homes.