Opening week scores big; tennis figures dip

HOLLYWOOD — Viewers flocked to opening-week NFL games Sunday on Fox, CBS and ESPN, but the Eye’s U.S. Open tennis finals double-faulted over the weekend, with both the men’s and women’s matchups way down in the ratings.

According to Nielsen’s metered-market overnights for Sunday’s National Football League action, an afternoon doubleheader on Fox and single games on CBS and ESPN combined for 30.7 rating points — up slightly from last year’s 30.6.

Including the strong numbers for Thursday’s Jets-Redskins kickoff special on ABC (Daily Variety, Sept. 8), the opening weekend is up 10% year-to-year. The growth can be attributed to this year’s Thursday kickoff game airing on ABC instead of on cabler ESPN, as it did last year.

CBS fared best Sunday, as its early single-game regional action (highlighted by close Texans-Dolphins and Colts-Browns games) averaged a 9.9/21 in overnights, up 14% from last year (8.7/19) and its best opener since 1999. This is particularly impressive since the CBS slate of games featured only one top-10 market (Boston).

Eye’s “NFL Today” pregame show also was up (3.1/8 vs. 2.8/7).

Fox figures slip

Fox averaged a 12.0/25 for its doubleheader (primarily Rams-Giants and Falcons-Cowboys), down 5% from a 12.6/26 for last year. Net remained on top in the battle of pregame shows (4.2/11), although this was a 7% year-to-year decline.

ESPN’s coverage of the evening’s Raiders-Titans matchup averaged a hearty 8.8/14 in the overnights, down slightly from the 9.1/14 for last year’s Cowboys-Texans opener, which became the fifth most-watched program in cable television history.

Day’s top local metered-market rating came from Nashville for the Titans on ESPN (48.6), from Minneapolis for the Vikings on Fox (39.5) and from Buffalo for the Bills on CBS (37.5).

Who’s playing?

A lack of marquee names slammed the ratings for the U.S. Open on CBS, with Sunday’s men’s final between rising American Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain netting a 4.6/9 in the overnights — down 42% from last year’s best-case-scenario matchup between Americans Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras (7.9/15).

Compared with two years ago, Sunday’s Roddick-Ferrero match was off by 16% (5.5/11).

And Saturday’s all-Belgian primetime women’s final on CBS between Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters settled for a 2.9/5, a huge 60% falloff from last year’s All-American final between sisters Venus and Serena Williams (7.2/13).

NBC experienced a similar ratings dropoff at the French Open in June, when the Belgian women produced a rating that was 40% lower than the 2002 championship match, which also was between the Williams sisters.

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