The wild-card game in Tampa drew 31.2 million viewers, which marks the largest NFL audience on ESPN and ABC since it had Super Bowl XL in 2006. It was the second-most watched non-Super Bowl game in Disney’s history and the most watched non-Super Bowl playoff game ever seen on the network.
The numbers are up about 35% from ESPN’s wild-card game last year, too.
The game peaked at nearly 36.5 million viewers late in the first half.
“This exceptional number proves once again that live sports are unequaled in amassing large audiences,” ESPN chairman Jimy Pitaro said in a statement. “The success is also a clear reflection of how ESPN, working alongside the NFL and our colleagues at Disney, can help attract fans, build anticipation and expand our reach. Even without a dramatic ending, it was an extraordinarily memorable evening.”
Troy Aikman, Joe Buck close out first year at ESPN
While the record audience is impressive, it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise, considering who was playing in the game.
Pitting “America’s Team” against Brady, who might have played his final NFL game, is sure to draw massive numbers — especially when it's the only game of the day.
It did, however, mark a fitting end to Troy Aikman's and Joe Buck’s first season in the booth for ESPN.
The longtime broadcasting duo joined ESPN to start the season after a long run at Fox, which gave the network a proven broadcasting crew after years of struggling to get “Monday Night Football” working. The two were on their first playoff game for Disney while working with longtime sideline reporter Lisa Salters, who was calling her ninth postseason game for the company.
In total, ESPN averaged 14.8 million viewers per game this season, the most it has had since it started broadcasting a wild-card game during the 2014-15 season.
Clearly, the decision paid off. While ESPN won’t have an NFL game again until next fall, Aikman and Buck certainly ended their first season there on a high note.