30 years ago tonight, Monday Night Football had its highest rating ever
The ’85 Bears, one of the best teams in the history of the NFL, dismantled all opponents that year, except one. And the one loss came in Miami on a Monday night, 30 years ago today.
The 38-24 win by the Dolphins was, and still is, the highest-rated game in Monday Night Football history.
According to the 2015 Official NFL Record & Fact Book, the game generated a 29.6 rating and a 46 percent share, which means that 46 percent of all TVs that were turned on were tuned in to the game -- and that 29.6 percent of all TVs (on or off) were showing the Bears-Dolphins game.
While it was the highest-rated Monday Night Football game, a Giants-49ers game played five years and one day later actually enjoyed a larger audience, despite a lower rating of 27. The difference, as explained at the time by the New York Times, came from a change in the number of households reflected by a ratings point. In 1985, a point translated to 850,000 homes; in 1990, the number had increased to 931,000.
So 41 million watched the Giants-49ers game, and 39 million saw Bears-Dolphins.
Today, regular-season games rarely have audiences that large. As long as the Monday Night Football package remains on cable, the audience size will never approach those heights. For example, the Week 11 Monday night game between the Bills and Patriots had an average audience of 14.2 million -- roughly a third of the size of the Giants-49ers viewership. (Curiously, there was no press release from ESPN regarding the audience that witnessed Monday night’s Ravens-Browns game.)
Even with millions of people having cable and Internet, many still get their TV signals through free public airwaves. Which means that broadcast TV continues to be the best way to gather the largest possible audiences for professional football games -- and which as a practical matter made Sunday Night Football the new Monday Night Football in 2006.
Still, few regular-season games in 2015 approach the numbers seen 30 years ago tonight, and 25 years ago tomorrow night.