Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) walks under pressure from Baltimore Ravens in front of linebacker Pernell McPhee (90) and defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) during the Kansas City Chiefs game against the Baltimore Ravens on September 28, 2020 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD.
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Perhaps the most exciting matchup of Week 3 of the National Football League has paid off for ESPN's Monday Night Football.
The Kansas City Chiefs' 34:20 win over the Baltimore Ravens averaged 14 million viewers, well above the first week's average of 10.8 million viewers. The game peaked in the first half with 16.2 million viewers around 9:30 p.m. until 9.45 p.m., the network said.
The top five markets for competition outside of Kansas City and Baltimore included Denver, San Diego and Pittsburgh.
Monday's game featured the final two NFL MVP quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Ravens Lamar Jackson, the reigning winner.
Mahomes, who also won the Super Bowl LIV MVP and agreed a 10-year extension of $ 503 million in July, threw for 385 yards, four touchdowns and one quick touchdown. Jackson made 15 of 28 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Dan Cohen, senior vice president of Octagon's Global Media Rights Consulting Division, said the game's heavy crowd shows the impact of the NFL's star power outside of its clubs.
"Similar to other sports, especially when compared to the NBA, this speaks for the growing trend for athletes to get a greater share of coordination and engagement through the individual team itself," he said.
"I might not be a Chiefs or Ravens fan, but I want to see Mahomes and Jackson because I'm a fan of either or both. Some might call this the 'LeBron Effect'."
Lamar Jackson # 8 of the stiff arms of the Baltimore Ravens Juan Thornhill # 22 of the Kansas City Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium on September 28, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Todd Olszewski | Getty Images
"These guys are the new face of the NFL, the two," added Neal Pilson, founder of consulting firm Pilson Communications.
Pilson, who served as president of CBS Sports for 13 years, said Mahomes and Jackson would continue to become "household names" and that their national interests should "drive" their teams' audience numbers.
"It's more than just a game," added Pilson. "It feeds all season, and that's a plus. That's why the NFL is the NFL and nobody else is the NFL. You get those opportunities for national games and personal rivalries. It's what the NFL is supposed to be."
After ESPN reported a 17% decrease from Monday Night Football's debut last year in Week 1, MNF viewership has increased 4% in four games since 2019, averaging 12 million viewers per game.
Pilson cautioned against "resisting the temptation" to believe that NFL audience numbers would suffer in the long run after starting the year in decline. He said with changing consumption habits and "other compelling options" for viewers to choose from, a week of low ratings doesn't matter.
"Audiences go up and down depending on who is playing and what else is on the air," he said, predicting a drop in viewership in the sport as the presidential election is nearly a month away.
"Even when ratings are low, there aren't many other better options," Pilson said. "If you look at the networking and sponsorship options available, the NFL is number one."