John McCain

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama spoke in a football stadium. John McCain spoke after a football game.

Ratings-wise, both moves were good. But McCain's was bigger.

Last night's McCain speech at the Republican National Convention was watched by nearly 39 million people, Nielsen Media Research said today.

In setting a new decade high for a convention speech, the GOP presidential nominee edged Democratic counterpart Obama (38.4 million), and McCain's suddenly famous running mate, Sarah Palin (37.2 million).

It's unknown exactly how much football aided McCain's cause. But it probably didn't hurt it.

On NBC, the McCain speech right aired after the conclusion of  the NFL's football-season opener, a game which encouraged about 13.6 million people to congregate in front of their TVs from 8-10 p.m. (ET).

By comparison, Obama addressed his convention during the runup to Labor Day, usually one of the least watched TV weeks of the year.

Obama's speech, however, was carried live by two more networks than McCain's (eight), and by four more than Palin's (six).

Overall, both political conventions were ratings winners for their respective parties.

The Democrats' audience numbers were up 66 percent over 2004; the Repubicans' were up 42 percent over their convention's final three nights in 2004.

In head-to-head competition, the Republican convention beat the Democratic convention. The Republicans averaged 32.5 million viewers for their three prime-time nights, Tuesday-Thursday. Over the same period last week, the Democratics averaged 29.5 million.

Fortunately, for the Obama-Joe Biden ticket, TV ratings actually aren't votes.

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