GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31: Dre'Mont Jones #86 of the Ohio State Buckeyes hits Mike Williams #7 of the Clemson Tigers during the first half of the 2016 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 31, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Unimpressive CFP semifinal ratings confirm that football on New Year’s Eve is a bad idea

The good news for ESPN: Ratings for Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal games were up a bit from last year’s.

The bad news for ESPN: Those ratings are still kind of terrible.

ESPN announced Sunday that the Peach Bowl between Washington and Alabama earned an 10.9 overnight rating on ESPN (the number is slightly higher if you include the alternate broadcast on ESPN2), while the Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson delivered a 10.0.

Last years semifinals, the first ever to be played on New Year’s Eve, drew ratings of 9.7 and 9.9, so ESPN can be pleased with the modest increase. On the other hand, the 2014 semifinals, which aired on New Year’s Day, got ratings of 15.3 and 15.5, according to Sports TV Ratings, so clearly the CFP is leaving a lot of viewers on the table.

It’s almost as if people are less likely to watch football on a night when millions of people are out celebrating away from a television… hmmm.

From the moment the NCAA and ESPN announced that the CFP semifinals would be held on New Year’s Eve, we knew ratings would suffer, that college football could not “change the paradigm of New Year’s Eve,” as CFP executive director Bill Hancock suggested at the time. Now, with two years of data, we can say for certain that holding big-time games on New Year’s Eve is a bad idea.

Going forward, the CFP semifinals won’t be held on New Year’s Eve if the holiday falls on a weekday but will still be played on Dec. 31 when that date falls on a weekend, as it did this year. As the schedule currently looks, the CFP won’t run into the New Year’s Eve problem again until 2021.

Next year’s CFP semifinals will be held on Jan. 1. You can bet that makes ESPN very, very happy.

UPDATE: Shortly after we published this, ESPN announced the total viewership numbers. The CFP double-header was up 14 percent from last year in total eyeballs, indicating a more impressive improvement than the overnight ratings suggested. These gains are likely attributable to the fact that this year’s games were held on a Saturday, not a Thursday. Regardless, the point about New Year’s Eve games being bad for ratings still stands.

Alex Putterman

About Alex Putterman

Alex has written for MLB.com, SI.com, the Hartford Courant, Baseball Prospectus, Land of 10, VICE Sports and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

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