If you wanted to make the argument to me that fans are over the College Football Playoff, I’d hang up and listen. And despite the presence of three bluebloods and one of the most dominant teams of the playoff era in this year’s semifinals, viewership dropped again in what has been a disappointing all-around year for college football.
The Rose Bowl between Alabama and Notre Dame drew 18.656 million viewers over ESPN and ESPN2, while the Ohio State-Clemson Sugar Bowl drew 18.933 million viewers over the same two networks. While those are the two largest audiences of the college football season thusfar (duh and/or hello), they continue a disappointing trend for the playoff.
(of note: ESPN is claiming 18.9 million for the Rose Bowl and 19.1 million for the Sugar Bowl, likely due to the inclusion of ESPN Deportes and ESPNU)
Here’s a table of the viewership for both semifinals, and the average of both games, since the playoff started with the 2014 season. I also added columns for the day and date for some extra context.
Of the seven years we’ve had a Playoff, this year’s semifinals ranked fifth in average viewership. The years it beat were a New Year’s Eve year and a Saturday. The 2020 Playoff was set for success, with a New Year’s Day window and high profile teams we previously mentioned. But it just didn’t come off, likely due to the games airing on a Friday, fatigue from fans related to the same general bunch of teams in the Playoff every year, and the overall drop in college football and broader sports viewership this season.
On a game by game basis, it wasn’t the Rose Bowl that failed to deliver, but instead the Sugar Bowl. Alabama’s win over Notre Dame ranked fourth among the seven afternoon semifinals, behind the two prior New Year’s Day games and the Crimson Tide’s mauling of Washington in 2016. The Sugar Bowl, on the other hand, was the second least-watched primetime kick we’ve seen in the semifinals, ahead of just Alabama’s New Year’s Eve shutout of Michigan State in 2015.
Looking forward to the National Championship, the bar is very simple: anything under 25 million will be a record-low. Anything above 25 million will be within spitting distance of every National Championship aside from the inaugural one.
I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Alabama-Ohio State was able to reach, or even exceed, the bar that has been set by the previous title games. But then again, given what we’ve seen out of the sports world this fall and winter, it would not be a shock if this game set a new low bar for title games in the Playoff era.
[Data via ShowBuzz Daily, Sports Media Watch]