College Football Playoff Ratings: ESPN Gets Huge Numbers in Inaugural Semifinal Telecasts

By Mike Cardillo

Are you sitting down? I sure hope so because you might not believe the following information: ESPN’s first broadcasts of the College Football Playoff drew very good television ratings on New Year’s Day. Relevent playoff games between programs with massive followings and national name recognition drew people to their couches on a day off from work to watch? Surely you jest, right?

Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand tweeted out the initial overnight ratings via a source, with both the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl topping the 15.0 mark, later amending the Sugar Bowl rating. The numbers were shortly confirmed by ESPN public relations director Keri Potts, noting the two bowl garnered the highest non-championship rating in the network’s history. The Rose Bowl finished with a 15.5 overnight rating, while the Sugar Bowl ended at 15.3:

For some comparison, the 2014 BCS Championship game between Florida State and Auburn on ESPN picked up an initial 15.3 overnight rating.

If there’s one takeaway here, the Rose Bowl continues to be one of the most coveted television properties of the year and that’s not simply limited to sports. Despite Oregon eventually blowing out Florida State, people stuck with the broadcast even if driven only by Semioles-inspired Schadenfreude. The late-afternoon Jan. 1 kickoff remains an ideal time for drawing millions of captive eyeballs to the set.

The Sugar Bowl turned out to be a closer game but the 9 p.m. kickoff on the East Coast lost some viewers to sleep by the time it ended well past midnight with Ohio State defeating Alabama. The 15.3 rating is still big all things considered.

News wasn’t so rosy for the NHL Winter Classic on NBC, which went head-to-head with the wild Cotton Bowl game between Michigan State and Baylor on ESPN. A 2.3 rating represents a record-low for the event.

Strong ratings like this will probably help increase talk of expanding the playoff field to eight (television money drives everything in sports, right?), but more games spread across multiple days could dilute the numbers. How many games could you cram on New Year’s Day, when almost everyone is off from school or work and the back-to-back telecasts at the end of the day worked perfectly for fans relaxing on the couch.

Back to the original premise: Football and TV in January, to paraphrase Larry David, “Who would have thought?”

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