This week’s college football schedule set up very well indeed for Disney, with all of the top five teams (as per the Associated Press poll rankings) playing on ABC or ESPN networks. Indeed, eight of the top 10 were playing on Disney-owned networks, with the lone exceptions being #6 Oklahoma State (facing Texas on Fox) and #8 Wisconsin (not playing thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak). And that led to some solid results for ABC in particular, as ESPN discussed in a release Tuesday:
In Week 9, ABC’s Saturday Night Football delivered ESPN’s most-watched game of the season, as an average of 6,534,000 viewers tuned into Ohio State’s 38-25 victory at Penn State. The game ranks as the second-most viewed game across all networks this season and is up 27 percent from ABC’s Saturday Night Football average from 2019. Saturday Night Football helped ABC win the night as the most-viewed network in primetime on Saturday.
In addition, ABC’s tripleheader of Boston College-Clemson, Notre Dame-Georgia Tech and Ohio State-Penn State averaged 4,940,000 viewers on Saturday, with all three games surpassing 3.75 million viewers. Saturday’s trio of games is the most-viewed ABC tripleheader in the regular season since 2019’s Week 9, and all three games marked ABC’s top viewership of the season in their respective windows.
When it comes to individual games, Boston College-Clemson averaged 4,376,000 viewers, while Notre Dame-Georgia Tech averaged 3,770,000 and Ohio State-Penn State averaged 6,534,000. The Boston College-Clemson game was in the top five of ABC noon games since 2017, and up 49 percent from ABC’s noon window average last year. Notre Dame-Georgia Tech was the lowest of those three, but it was ABC’s most-viewed mid-afternoon game this year. And Ohio State-Penn State was ABC’s best game this year, and up 27 percent from last season’s Saturday Night Football average.
What’s also interesting about this is that while ABC and ESPN had the higher-ranked teams relative to Fox’s networks, their matchups weren’t necessarily the most compelling. Yes, they had #3 Ohio State at #18 Penn State, but their other seven top-10 teams were playing unranked opponents. And all of the higher-seeded teams on ABC and ESPN networks won. Meanwhile, Fox saw two big upsets, with Michigan State taking down No. 13 Michigan in the noon Eastern game and Texas taking down #6 Oklahoma State in the afternoon game, but those games averaged 4.216 million and 4.039 million viewers respectively (as per ShowBuzzDaily); Fox won that mid-afternoon window over No. 4 Notre Dame’s 31-13 drubbing of Georgia Tech, but not by much, and their coverage of Michigan-Michigan State trailed ABC’s numbers for Boston College against No. 1 Clemson (a game that was surprisingly close, but ended with a 34-28 Tigers victory).
The larger takeaway here is that ESPN and ABC are seeing solid year-over-year numbers for college football, and that’s notable in the wider sports context of audience declines this fall. And that’s also interesting given the many changes to this year’s college football season, including conferences going to conference-only play and several schools cancelling or postponing games thanks to COVID-19. We’ll see how the numbers go in the weeks ahead.
[ESPN Press Room; photo from Matthew O’Haren/USA Today Sports]