UPDATED, 2:10 PM: Of all the folks who are excited about finally having a playoff to decide the champion of college football, ESPN’s execs must be near the top of the list. The Worldwide Leader said this afternoon that its semifinal games of the inaugural College Football Playoff yesterday pulled the two biggest audiences in the history of cable television. Ohio State’s upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which kicked off at 9 PM ET, averaged 28.3 million viewers, a tick above the 28.2 million Oregon’s destruction of Florida State averaged in the Rose Bowl at 5 PM ET. The Sugar Bowl scored a sweet 15.2 rating; the Rose Bowl bloomed with a 14.8.
“These record-setting numbers illustrate the enormous fan interest in college football and the wide-ranging appeal of the new College Football Playoff format,” said John Wildhack, EVP Programming and Production at ESPN.
PREVIOUSLY, 10:12 AM: The first-ever College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Day marked the highest overnight ratings ever for a non-championship football game on ESPN. That’s a doubleheader sweep for ESPN, which outbid its rivals to host the inaugural playoff games that pit the four top-ranked teams to determine the national champion.
The early game Thursday, Oregon’s 59-20 thrashing of Florida State in the Rose Bowl, averaged a 15.5 metered market rating — despite the most lopsided score in the game’s history. The primetime game that saw Ohio State upset Alabama 42-35 in a down-to-the-wire finish in the Sugar Bowl drew a 15.3 MM rating — despite the late finish on the East Coast. Both are record numbers for New Year’s Day games on ESPN’s networks; the Rose Bowl at 5 PM ET was up 38% over last year’s comparable time slot game, and the Sugar Bowl was up 125%.
Oregon and Ohio State meet in the College Football Playoff title game January 12 on ESPN.
ESPN went all in to nab rights to the playoff games, securing a 12-year deal worth a reported $470M annually and $5.6B-plus through the 2026 bowl season.