The Big Ten’s debut on NBC got off to a strong start, with a primetime matchup between Penn State and West Virginia drawing 3.50 million viewers and a 1.8 rating — the fourth-largest audience of college football’s Week 1 slate.
The sequel, however, wasn’t nearly as successful.
Facing admittedly much stiffer competition, the Week 2 matchup between Maryland and Charlotte drew just 665,000 viewers and a .43 rating — one of the smallest primetime college football audiences ever on “Big Four” broadcast television, according to Sports Media Watch. As Awful Announcing’s Joe Lucia noted, the second primetime Big Ten game on NBC barely topped The CW’s airing of Cincinnati-Pittsburgh, which averaged 617,000 viewers.
As is the case with any specific rating, the context is always relevant. And while Penn State is undoubtedly a bigger draw than Maryland — and the Nittany Lions were playing another power conference opponent — it is worth noting that the Maryland-Charlotte game faced significantly tougher competition, most notably the Alabama-Texas game on, which drew the highest rating of the weekend on ESPN and ESPN2, as well as the Oregon-Texas Tech game on Fox and the Wisconsin-Washington State game on ABC.
But while it’s only been two weeks, the early indication is that the Big Ten’s drawing power on NBC will be largely dependent on the drawing power of the schools and not the conference itself. And in a top-heavy conference, that could pose some problems — like this weekend when Purdue hosts Syracuse gets the primetime slot — although, NBC only has to wait one more week for what will likely be its biggest ratings draw of the college football season: Ohio State at Notre Dame.
Next season, when USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington join the Big Ten there will be many more high-profile games to go around Fox, CBS, and NBC. For NBC’s sake in particular, they hope to not be stuck with primetime matchups that barely outdraws Premier League soccer.