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Monday might grid

Denver-St. Louis game delivers strong 15.9 ratings

As the calendar turned to September, viewers indeed were ready for some football as the NFL wrapped up its first weekend.

Monday night’s Denver-St. Louis matchup delivered a strong 15.9 rating and 26 share in overnights, down slightly from last year’s premiere and up nicely from 1998, the last time the opener aired on Labor Day.

The results are encouraging for the league, whose primetime preseason contests in August slipped to all-time low marks on ABC and CBS.

ABC last week had prepared the media for record-low numbers this season (due to the Olympics and other factors), but so far, so good. Denver and St. Louis are not the biggest of league draws (representing the 18th and 21st biggest markets, respectively), but a competitive, high-scoring game — which was also the first regular season game for announcer Dennis Miller — may have brought more viewers to the set than usual.

Hometown favorites

According to overnight ratings information supplied Tuesday by Nielsen, Monday night’s tussle between the teams that won the last three Super Bowls scored a whopping 41.3/61 in Denver and a 38.9/55 in St. Louis — the top-rated among the 48 metered markets. Game peaked in the 10 o’clock half-hour with a national overnight average of 17.2/27.

The 15.9/26 in overnights is down from last year’s 16.1/26 for Miami-Denver, which aired the week after Labor Day. Compared with the 1998 New England-Denver opener (also on Labor Day but at the earlier 8 p.m. starting time), this year’s game finished 9% higher (15.9/26 vs. 14.6/23).

The National Football League is said to be seriously considering permanently shifting the start of the season to the week after Labor Day, which would almost certainly guarantee higher ratings. It would also reduce to one week the gap between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.

A more accurate seasonal gauge of “Monday Night Football’s” ratings potential may come next week when the New England Patriots take on the New York Jets. With NBC airing Olympics coverage on Sept. 18 and Sept. 25 and baseball playoffs potentially overlapping into primetime on the three Mondays after that, it could be “MNF’s” last time alone in the sports spotlight for six weeks.

National ratings for Monday’s game will be issued today, while numbers for Sunday afternoon’s NFL contests on CBS and Fox as well as Sunday night’s ESPN game between Tennessee and Buffalo will be released Thursday.

College gridders score

It was also a strong weekend for college football, as ABC’s Alabama-UCLA game, which went to 80% of the country, averaged a 4.2/10 — up from the 3.4/10 for the net’s regional coverage a year ago. And NBC’s first Notre Dame telecast of the season (against Texas A&M) delivered a 3.4/9 in overnights, up 10% from last year’s comparable Notre Dame-Kansas contest (3.1/7).

Big ratings are also expected this Saturday on NBC, with the attractive Nebraska-Notre Dame matchup. CBS kicks off its college football schedule on Sept. 16 with the marquee Florida-Tennessee matchup.

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