Arizona Michigan State Thanksgiving Day Arizona Wildcats guard Caleb Love (2) drives to the basket as Michigan State Spartans forward Coen Carr (55), left, defends during the Acrisure Classic in Palm Desert, Calif., on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, 2023.

This fall, both CBS and Fox have had some success counterprogramming the NFL during weeks it only has a singleheader. With Fox airing the early afternoon game on Thanksgiving Day and CBS airing the late afternoon game, Fox counterprogrammed the Cowboys-Commanders broadcast with college basketball to great success.

Per Sports Media Watch, an audience of 5.183 million viewers watched the No. 3 Arizona Wildcats win over the No. 21 Michigan State Spartans. While that’s a vastly smaller audience than all three NFL games on Thanksgiving Day, it’s still good for the most-watched regular season college basketball game since the 2007-08 season (a Duke-UNC game on ESPN). It’s also the most-watched regular season college basketball game ever on Fox.

Two years ago, Fox counterprogrammed the NFL on CBS Thanksgiving Day game with MLS, which averaged 1.85 million viewers. CBS did not counterprogram Fox’s late afternoon broadcast last year with live sports.

During the 2023 season, Fox has made a habit of airing live sports head-to-head with the NFL when it has the singleheader. The network did it last month to great acclaim with volleyball and a couple of weeks ago with a special edition of NASCAR Race Hub.

But none of that Sunday counterprogramming has even come close to the heights reached last Thursday by the Spartans-Wildcats game. Given how much larger the lead-in audience was, the similarly large college basketball audience makes plenty of sense.

[Data via Sports Media Watch]

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.