Last year, Fox Sports opened its wallet wide to secure rights to Big Ten football. On Saturday, that aggressive bid paid off, when Michigan-Ohio State drew the best overnight rating ever for a Fox regular-season college football telecast.
The Game, airing on Fox for the first time, drew a 6.7 metered market rating, surpassing October’s Ohio State-Penn State matchup, which garnered a 6.4. Both contests trail various Fox bowl games and the 2013 Ohio State-Michigan State Big Ten Championship.
That Michigan-Ohio State was Fox’s best rated regular season game ever is no huge surprise. This Big Ten deal is the network’s biggest foray into college football to date, and the Wolverines and Buckeyes have the conference’s (and arguably the country’s) greatest rivalry. Still, the healthy rating for The Game is a good sign for Fox, which took a risk by paying big money for Big Ten rights in part due to the allure of Michigan-Ohio State. The matchup draws huge viewership every year, but it helped that this year’s iteration was close all the way through, at least until the Buckeyes pulled away in the final moments for a 31-20 victory.
Though details of Fox and ESPN’s Big Ten rights agreements have never become public, Fox reportedly got the first pick of matchups in some sort of draft and used it to claim The Game, which had aired on ABC in recent years. Gaining rights to the biggest Big Ten contest of the season had a double benefit for Fox: not only did it assure the network a large audience for a major event, it also deprived a competitor of that audience.
Despite Fox’s strong ratings for Ohio State-Michigan, that contest was actually not the most watched college football game of the day. That distinction belongs to No. 6 Auburn’s upset of No. 1 Alabama, which scored a 7.8 overnight rating on CBS, the best of any college football game this season and of any CBS regular-season matchup since the 2013 Iron Bowl.