Ratings Roundup: NBC Posts Highest SNF Audience Ever, US Open Finals Up for CBS

Following an offseason fraught with turmoil, many networks expected the NFL’s return to the field to deliver big ratings and the league’s slate of Week 1 games did just that.

NBC led the way, posting the most-watched Sunday Night Football game ever and the most watched Sunday or Monday primetime game in 14 years with its Cowboys-Jets opener. The game was seen by an average of 25.8 million viewers (8:33-11:44 p.m. ET), the most for any Sunday/Monday primetime game since Dec. 15, 1997 (Broncos-49ers, 27.0 million on ABC) and the most ever for SNF since the primetime package moved to NBC in 2006. The viewership was up 2% over last year’s SNF season opener (Cowboys-Redskins, 25.3 million) and up 22% over 2009 (Bears-Packers, 21.1 million).

The only primetime NFL broadcasts to outdraw Sunday Night’s game dating back to 1997 were Thursday’s NFL Kickoff game (Saints-Packers: 27.2 million) and last year’s NFL Kickoff game (Vikings-Saints: 27.5 million). NBC’s two-game average viewership of 26.5 million for both Thursday and Sunday night is the best since the NFL created the Thursday/Sunday primetime weekend in 2002. Additionally, the Thursday and Sunday night games rank as the No. 1 and No. 2 primetime programs of the week among viewers, households and all key demographics…

…Fox and CBS also delivered big ratings, but both networks’ overnight ratings from Sunday were even with last year.

Fox’s Week 1 NFL national window – Giants-Redskins in 63% of markets – earned a 17.1 overnight rating, flat compared to last year (Packers-Eagles: 17.1). The 17.1 overnight ties last year as the highest for the Week 1 NFL telecast ever on FOX. Earlier in the day, regional action drew an 8.9 overnight, down a tick from last year (Panthers-Giants: 9.0).

As for CBS, the network’s Week 1 NFL singleheader, featuring Ravens-Steelers, earned a 10.6 overnight rating, the same as last year (Bengals-Patriots: 10.6), but up 29% from 2009 (Jets-Texans: 8.2)…

…CBS Sports also saw gains in its coverage of the men’s and women’s US Open Finals.

The men’s championship, a four-set rematch that saw No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeat No. 2 Rafael Nadal, (6-2, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1) earned an average overnight household rating/share of 2.6/6, up 18% from last year’s 2.2/6, which saw Nadal defeat Djokovic in four sets on Monday afternoon, Sept. 13 (CBS’s 2010 coverage of the men’s championship was halted due to rain and concluded on ESPN2).

Meanwhile, the women’s championship match, which saw Samantha Stosur defeat Serena Williams in straight sets (6-2, 6-3) earned an average overnight household rating/share of 4.2/8, up 100% from last year’s 2.1/4, which consisted of rain-out coverage on Sunday afternoon, and up 121% from a 1.9/4 for last year’s women’s championship in prime time on Saturday night, Sept. 11 (Kim Clijsters def. Vera Zvonareva). Overall, CBS Sports’ coverage of the 2011 U.S. OPEN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP earned an average overnight HH rating/share of 2.0/5, up 11% from last year’s 1.8/5.